It was January 20th.  For the 32-7 Pacers, a 35-point first quarter was a fantastic way to begin a five-game Western road trip.  That night in Oakland, all five Indiana starters ended up scoring in double-figures as the blue and Gold held on for a 102-94 win at Golden State.  Nearing the midpoint of the regular season, the Pacers owned the NBA's best record, were defending at a near-historic level, and were five games up in the loss column over the defending champion Heat in the East.  

Life was good.

However, over the next several weeks, things changed.  The Pacers are just 18-13 since, while dealing with offensive slumps, an eroding defense, and off-court controversies.  So, how did we get here?  Here's a timeline of the Pacers' slide:

January 22nd: Indiana gives up a season-high 124 points in a lopsided loss in Phoenix.  Former Pacer Gerald Green rubbed salt in the wound with 23.  Considering how the Pacers were playing to that point, most (including me) took the performance with a grain of salt and didn’t think much of it.

"We spoil you guys with great defense, so when we have a bad game you think the world is going to end." - George Hill

January 27th: During their trip to Los Angeles, Paul George stops by Jimmy Kimmel Live. At this point in the season, George is a serious MVP candidate.  The Pacers slam the Lakers the next night, 102-94.

January 30th: The Pacers fall to Phoenix for the second time in a little over a week.  Their furious second-half rally fell short after they gave up an uncharacteristic 66 points in the first half.  It was just the second home loss of the season to that point, and the eighth time that the Pacers had allowed an opponent to hit the 100-point mark.

January 31st: Upset with the poor bench play, Larry Bird takes a flier on Andrew Bynum.  His signing is made official the next day, although he would not make his debut as a Pacer until March.  Bynum was terrific in two wins over the hapless Celtics and Pistons averaging nearly 12/10, but is out indefinitely as his nagging knee problems returned.

"I ain't worried about next year, and I haven't all year.  We're in the now, and we're going to do whatever we can to go as far as we can." - Larry Bird

February 7th: Paul George speaks publicly about the rumors involving him impregnating a Miami stripper.  He said he would “embrace his responsibilities” if it happened to be true.  George shot 5-for-23 from the field that night, but the Pacers were able to beat Portland in overtime.  It was Indiana’s last win over a winning team for nearly six weeks.

The paternity issue was just the beginning for PG's off-court distractions

February 9th: It appeared that the Pacers were on their way to a comfortable win over a poor Orlando team - a squad they had just beaten by 21 six days prior.  The Blue and Gold led by seventeen at one point in the third quarter, and by ten entering the fourth.  However, the Magic started the final frame on a 24-7 run, and held on for a one-point triumph.

February 12th: The Pacers were set to enter the All-Star Break with the East’s best record when they welcomed Dallas to Banker’s Life Fieldhouse.  They staggered through the first three quarters, but found themselves ahead entering the fourth.  The Pacers put up just 11 points in the fourth quarter, and turned the ball over 20 times for the game in an 81-73 loss – their second in three games.

"We're not playing well.  We're not playing the way were were at the beginning of the year.  We're winning some games, but we're not playing well." - Luis Scola

February 20th: Indiana makes the biggest splash of the NBA’s Trade Deadline, sending veteran Danny Granger to Philadelphia in return for Evan Turner and LaVoy Allen.  While Turner has had a few standout performances (22 at Charlotte, 20 at Detroit), he’s been mostly up-and-down during his first month as a Pacer.  Meanwhile, Granger’s shooting percentage in L.A. has jumped from 35% to 45% and he’s scored in double-figures six times in ten games as a Clipper.

Februrary 24th: Indiana's entire starting five appears on the cover of GQ. According to Scott Agness of Pacers.com, the photo shoot was done "awhile ago".  I'm not sure if it happened before the team began their late January slide.

March 2nd: The Pacers complete a five-game win streak by holding off the West’s worst team, the Jazz, at home.  Although they had won five straight at that point, only one of those victories (Lakers at home by 20) was convincing.  Barely holding off awful Milwaukee (13-58) twice, Boston (23-47), and Utah (23-48) teams were a sign of what was to come…

March 4th-9th: Klay Thompson’s buzzer-beating jumper sunk Indiana in a gut-wrenching 98-96 loss to kick-start a four-game losing skid.  The Pacers looked lifeless in back-to-beat beatdowns in Charlotte (by 22) and Houston (by 26), with the latter being their worst performance of the season.

March 17th: In a stretch that was eerily similar to the one in late February to early March, the Pacers barely got by three terrible teams in four wins.  That included rallying from a 25-point deficit in Detroit (26-44), and 7-point and 9-point (was a one-possession game with two minutes left) wins over a Philadelphia team that is still in the midst of a record-setting losing streak.

March 19th: George shoots just 4-of-17 from the field while his All-NBA adversary, Carmelo Anthony, goes for a game-high 34 in a 92-86 loss at the Garden.  The Pacers had beaten the Knicks by 28 points in Indianapolis in mid-January.

"We're playing pretty well.  We have a really good team. Nobody needs to panic and go nuts.  Stay the course." - Frank Vogel

March 21st: For a brief moment, the Pacers looked like their old selves again.  Paul George battled another off-shooting night, but contributed a triple-double.  All five Pacers were in double-figures, and Luis Scola (season-high 19 points) turned in his best offensive performance since December in a 91-79 win over the Bulls.

March 22nd: Similar to Manti Te’o’s “catfish” saga from 2012, BlackSportsOnline.com posts an odd story about Paul George sending revealing photos of himself to a person who wasn’t the person that George thought he was sending them to (Complicated, right?).  George shoots 2-of-10 that night in a 82-71 loss in Memphis.  Roy Hibbert, who is 7-foot-2, also failed to record a single rebound in the defeat.

March 24th: George denies that he was “catfished”, saying that he knew who was behind it, and that it was just someone trying to bring him down.  He struggles again, going 8-for-22 from the field in a 89-77 loss to the Bulls. Roy Hibbert, who was still 7-foot-2, also failed to record a made field goal (0-5 FG).  It was the Pacers’ 7th loss in March, and they fell to 1-6 against teams with a winning record since February 1st.

"We look like sh--." - David West

The Pacers are 10-7 over the last month-plus, but nine of those ten wins came against Milwaukee (2), Philadelphia (2), Boston (2), Utah, Detroit, and the LA Lakers.  Those teams are a combined 124-299 (.293 winning percentage), and are five of the six worst teams in the NBA.  If you want an idea of how different the last 31 games have been from the first 40, check out this comparison:

BEFORE JAN. 21    
Record:    33-7
Record vs. >.500 teams:   15-5
10+ point wins:    20
10+ point losses:     3
100-point games allowed:     6
Opponent points per game:   88.3
AFTER JAN. 21    
Record:    18-13
Record vs. >.500 teams:    3-8
10+ point wins:    10
10+ point losses:     8
100-point games allowed:    11
Opponent points per game:   96.4

Amid all of their issues, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Miami has fallen into a similar slump, and still trails Indiana by two games in the hugely-important race for the East's #1 seed.  A win tonight would put the Pacers three clear of the Heat with just ten games remaining. However, with the way they've looked for the past two months, they'll have to fix these issues if they are to make a serious run at the NBA Title this summer.

DS