With five losses to show for their last six trips to the hardwood, the Pacers (.693 winning percentage) finally relinquished control of the conference to the two-time defending champion Miami Heat (.699).
What is Hibbert's take on the news of the demotion? A slight tip of the cap and the latest in a line of troubling signs emerging from the Circle City, via Pacers.com's Scott Agness:
It's hard to sound the panic alarm for a team with a No. 2 conference standing this late in the season—unless the players are ringing it themselves.
"We've got horrible body language," David West said after Sunday's 14-point loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, via Candace Buckner of The Indianapolis Star. "At times our chemistry and us being a together group is just not there. That's what given us some success and it's just not there right now."
What is there now is an offense that struggles mightily just to put up 80 points, a defense seeing its work undone at the opposite end and a group of players obviously frustrated with one another:
Splintering at the absolute worst possible time.
With the team-wide offensive struggles and an overall strengthening of the conference playoff picture, Indy's postseason run is shaping up to be more challenging than the team could have ever imagined. The fact that the setting has possibly changed for that push is a major deal.
Hibbert might be taking a state-of-the-franchise look at the situation, but the truth is the Pacers need to secure that No. 1 seed—deserved or otherwise.
How do I know home-court advantage is so important for Indiana? Because the Pacers have been saying it is all season. West said this in November, via Windhorst:
We believe in this locker room that we can get the No. 1 seed and we started the year with that attitude. The fact that Game 7 of the  conference finals wasn't in our home building we felt was the difference in a trip to the Finals....
The Pacers had been in the driver's seat for most of the year, but they've been careening off track for a while now. That season-opening sprint seems to be catching up to them in a bad way. USA Today's Sean Highkin wrote:
More than anything, the Pacers are just burned out. The playoffs aren’t going to be any easier for them, and if they can’t regain home-court advantage, a potential Eastern Conference Finals series with the Heat will put them at a serious disadvantage.
Having home court would certainly help, but it may not be enough to repair the apparent cracks in this franchise's foundation. Toxic team chemistry poses a much bigger threat than a potential Game 7 away from home.
But the Pacers likely need both home-court and strong chemistry—plus superstar production from Hibbert and Paul George—to make the type of playoff noise they imagined earlier in the season.
Noise that's so far removed from everything we've heard out of Indianapolis as of late that it's hard to even remember the tune.
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