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updated: 3/20/2014 6:50 PM

Pacers' fast start a thing of the past

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  • Associated PressIndiana Pacers' Paul George, right, pushes past New York Knicks' Amare Stoudemire during the first half at Madison Square Garden.

      Associated PressIndiana Pacers' Paul George, right, pushes past New York Knicks' Amare Stoudemire during the first half at Madison Square Garden.

 
 

This might seem like eons ago, but try to remember a night when the undefeated Indiana Pacers rolled into the United Center and lost to a Bulls team led by Derrick Rose.

The date was Nov. 16, 2013.

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Actually, that was earlier this season. It was the last time the Bulls and Pacers played, and the game happened a week before Rose suffered his second season-ending knee injury. You probably remember Rose. Wore No. 1, won MVP one year.

Indiana was 9-0 before losing to the Bulls 110-94 that night. The Pacers eventually improved their record to 16-1 and later 39-10.

Since then, however, Indiana has gone 11-8. If the Eastern Conference standings were adjusted from Jan. 1, the Bulls would be the No. 2 seed, a half-game behind Brooklyn. The Pacers would be third, Miami fifth.

With the Bulls ready to battle the Pacers for the first time in more than four months on Friday in Indianapolis, this is a good time to ask: What's gone wrong in Indiana?

Maybe it's just the ebb and flow of an NBA season. The Pacers started fast, now have hit a lull, but there is plenty of time to get things right before the playoffs begin.

There were plenty of gripes in the Indiana locker room, though, following Wednesday's loss at New York.

"We haven't grown our IQ as a team into improvising when teams try to throw in little wrenches into our offense," Paul George said, according to the Indianapolis Star News. "I say that because at this point of the season everybody knows what we're running."

Veteran power forward David West had a different take.

"(We're) just not playing team ball," he said. "There's no other way to slice it."

Center Roy Hibbert, an Eastern Conference all-star, is averaging just 9.6 points and 4.5 rebounds in March. He said something that made it sound as though he doesn't have faith in all his teammates.

"We've fallen in love with the jump shot for a while," Hibbert said. "People feel like they have it going and they want to do it themselves sometimes. I feel like two guys that I have 100 percent trust in doing that is Paul and David. Those guys have the green light whenever they have it, but other than that I think we should move the ball and get people involved."

One theory for the Pacers' slump is that they're worn out. The top six players have missed a total of seven games all season.

Another is to blame newcomer Evan Turner, the former No. 2 overall pick who came over from Philadelphia in the Danny Granger trade. In 13 games with Indiana, Turner has the lowest cumulative plus-minus on the team.

And the defense is worse when he's on the court. Maybe that's a correctable issue once Turner gets more time to learn the system. The Pacers are also trying to work in center Andrew Bynum, but he's played in just two games and isn't likely to suit up Friday.

Another storyline for Friday is the return of Bulls guard D.J. Augustin to the place where he spent last season. Augustin was the Pacers' backup point guard, but his playing time dropped as the season progressed and Indiana quickly replaced him with C.J. Watson.

Augustin led the Bulls with 20 points in Wednesday's win at Philadelphia.

"It's just about opportunity," Augustin said after the game, according to csnchicago.com. "I didn't get an opportunity there. Coaches are different. It's in the past. I'm not even thinking about that. I'm here now and I'm trying to make the best out of the situation."

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