The Indiana Pacers inched closer to grabbing a playoff spot on Sunday, but they did it the ugliest way possible.
The New Orleans Hornets stung the Pacers in every way imaginable Sunday night, from the start of the opening tip.
The Hornets are also fighting for a playoff spot, and it was clear that they wanted this one more. Their motivation may also have been the overtime loss they suffered in Indianapolis earlier this season. Regardless of their motivation, it was clear that they were going to attack Indiana like a pack of sharks, and they executed their game plan to perfection.
The Hornets were getting whatever they wanted inside, and dominated the rebound battle, many of them offensive ones. They had more than twice as many second-chances on the offensive end, many times more than that. There were a few times during the game where they were able to put up three shots during one possession.
Anytime you give an NBA team that many chances, they are going to connect. The entire New Orleans team was able to just walk through the lane and get a layup anytime they wanted, and the game was basically over before the first quarter ended.
Emeka Okafor had a double-double before halftime with 10 points and 13 rebounds, and the game was even more lopsided in the second half, when the Hornets came out of the locker room and promptly went on a 13-2 run to put the game away for good.
Nobody really had a good game for Indiana, and this is a game they would just as soon forget. Luckily, they will have a couple of days off before their next game to fix some major holes in their defense.
The focus now for the Pacers is their final four games. Speaking of final four, the Butler Bulldogs will be playing in the National Championship game tonight, and the Notre Dame women's team will be playing for a championship at Conseco Fieldhouse on Tuesday night. These are two basketball teams from the state of Indiana that have energized a lot of people around here.
Hopefully it can rub off a little on this Pacers team.
Perhaps the only person in Indianapolis rooting for UConn in tonight's National Championship game is current Pacers' player A.J. Price. The current NBA point guard was a star at UConn, leading them to the Final Four just two years ago.
The good news for Pacers fans is that they have three of their last four games at home, where they will face the Washington Wizards, Atlanta Hawks and New York Knicks before heading to Orlando to face the Magic in the final game of the regular season.
They hope that isn't their last game of the season though. Fortunately, the Charlotte Bobcats lost on Sunday as well, which prevented the Pacers from losing any ground in the playoff race. They still hold a two-game lead over the pesky Bobcats, and they also own the tie-breaker, if it comes down to that.
A question that keeps popping up now is who to start at the shooting guard position.
With the solid play of the other four starters (Darren Collison, Danny Granger, Tyler Hansbrough and Roy Hibbert) the real question now is who fits better in the starting lineup?
It doesn't really matter if you stick with Paul George, Mike Dunleavy, Brandon Rush, or even Dahntay Jones at the position, as they all have flaws that would make you think about leaving them on the bench. George has been starting a lot in the absence of Dunleavy, but he is back healthy again and producing.
George's production has gone down lately, but that is to be expected. When you play with Price, Jeff Foster, Josh McRoberts, and Rush, you are going to be more of a focal point on offense than when you are in with the starters. As much as I love his game, and I do think he will be our franchise player in two years, I think you have to have him as the sixth man, and start Dunleavy.
If they are facing a team with a smaller, quicker guard like Golden State or Detroit, I think you have to start Rush, but if not I like the experience and shooting ability of Dunleavy as the starter. We don't know what coach Vogel will end up doing, but I believe he will make the right decision when that time comes.
When you look at these last four games, you can't really pencil in a win anywhere, because they have proven that they can easily be beaten by bad teams.
This game with Washington on Wednesday night is going to be big. This is the only game out of the last four that is against a non-playoff team.
The other home games against the Hawks and Knicks are going to be very tough, and traveling to Orlando and getting a win is extremely difficult, unless they decide to rest their players. Getting a win on Wednesday is crucial for the Pacers.
With their magic number down to just two, the Pacers will likely make the playoffs, but they are going to need a reality check before they play their first postseason game in five years.
Yes it is a nice accomplishment for such a young team, but nobody wants to be embarrassed in the first round. It is very likely that they will see their division foe Chicago Bulls in the opening round, which is a very tough matchup for this team. If they want to be prepared for that series, they are going to have to play 100 times better than they did Sunday in New Orleans.
Wednesday night's game at Conseco Fieldhouse against the Washington Wizards is set for 7 p.m.