There is no denying that the Indiana Pacers season has taken a turn for the worse in recent weeks. The team lost 10 of their 18 games in March and have now fallen behind the Miami Heat at the top of the Eastern standings.
But who is to blame for their recent slump? Is it down to the coach or should the players have stepped up?
Star player Paul George has seen his offensive contribution tail off, he has averaged 21 points per game this season but has recorded over 20 points in a game just twice in his last nine outings.
Indeed a lot of the media criticism has centered on George, with many analysts believing that the 23 year-old does not possess the star power to guide the Pacers to success.
Head coach, Frank Vogel has also come in for criticism during his fourth year with the team. Vogel has guided the team to the playoffs in the three previous years but have never challenged for the top seed in the conference like they have this year.
They have led the Heat all the way but now in the final furlong, the Pacers have fallen and they need to regain their feet before the playoffs begin.
Although Vogel and George’s contributions need to be acknowledged, Roy Hibbert’s part in the Pacers demise should be looked at as genuinely troubling. Hibbert is the Pacers captain on the floor, a solid rim protector and enforcer, his performance on court has not dropped dramatically and yet he still has an effect.
The 27 year-old center, always outspoken, has hit out at teammates during this down period. Last Friday he called teammates selfish after a game: “"Some selfish dudes in here. Some selfish dudes. I'm tired of talking about it. We've been talking about it for a month."
When the Pacers finally dropped out of the top spot in the East after a defeat to the San Antonio Spurs, Hibbert claimed the it was no less than they deserved: "Good for them (the Heat), We don't deserve it." Later he addressed concerns about the team chemistry after arguments erupted on the Pacers bench.
"We've had plenty of sit-downs with the team and coaches, some with upper management listening in. Maybe we should all go to group therapy and have an airing of grievances.'' Hibbert said.
Hibbert may be being totally honest with his take on the team’s performance recently but it can’t be helping the team to rebound from defeats in time for the playoffs. More than anything, it is drawing the attention of media and other playoff-bound teams to the weaknesses within the Pacers camp.
Despite being one of the favorites to make the Finals from the East for most of the season, the Pacers will now most likely have to navigate past the Heat on the road to get to the Finals and will need a boost in form, and unity to even get that far.
From a basketball point of view, the Pacers are too good to allow this slump to limit them in the playoffs and I believe they will improve before the postseason. But Hibbert’s continued hitting out will not help that process along.