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INDIANAPOLIS – Returning from the All-Star break has seen the Pacers play better, but they are back in Indianapolis with a 1-2 record on their 3-game western road trip.

Missed opportunities in the 4th quarter will define this road trip against 3 of the better teams in the West.

Indiana (17-21) got outscored by 19 points in the final period on Monday in Denver, leading to a 121-106 loss to the Nuggets (23-16).

The Pacers were actually down 20 in Monday’s first half but came roaring back in the 3rd quarter.

A four-point lead after three quarters for the visitors quickly evaporated though.

Denver scored the first 14 points of the 4th quarter and the Pacers couldn’t mount another comeback.

All-Star big man Nikola Jokic scored 32 points and grabbed 14 rebounds to lead Denver.

Indiana was led by 24 points from Malcolm Brogdon and 17 points from Caris LeVert in his second game back from surgery.

The Nuggets were 15-of-28 from behind the arc and outrebounded the Pacers by 15.

Monday’s start to the game was pushed back by an hour due to a snowstorm in the Denver area, which forced Indiana to delay their flight to Colorado until Monday, a day later than teams typically arrive for road games.

Jeremy Lamb missed his second straight game due to knee soreness.

The Pacers have one home game on Wednesday (vs. the Nets) before heading back on the road for 3 straight.

 

Three Things Learned

1. Better Play On Road Trip: If games were just 3 quarters, Indiana looked like an NBA finals contender on this 3-game western road trip. But the Pacers went 1-2 against the Lakers, Suns and Nuggets. They definitely played better than that record. As we pointed out over the weekend, Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis continue to look fresher in returning from the All-Star break. Caris LeVert was even more comfortable in his second game back (6-of-11 shooting, 3-of-6 from behind the arc) and Doug McDermott seems settled again with the reserve unit. The March slate is brutal though and signs of life need to start turning into actual wins for the Pacers to move up in the standings and try to secure some sort of playoff spot (play-in or actual playoff berth). It is nice to finally see LeVert in the lineup with this group being the main bunch, along with Jeremy Lamb, for the immediate future.

2. Finishing Issues Still There: The return from the All-Star break had the Pacers in a familiar position against the Lakers and the Nuggets, with the endings to both of those games being a familiar result. Indiana actually held a 12-point lead over the Lakers in the 4th quarter before things fell apart. On Monday, they had another 4th quarter lead against Denver before being outscored by 19 in the final period. These chances aren’t going to be as readily available in March, so that adds to the sting. Poor late-game execution has been a major issue for Indiana as of late and it showed up again in Los Angeles and Denver. This team isn’t in a good enough playoff position to squander such opportunities.

3. Do Not Forget About The Trade Deadline: We are 5 games away from the delayed NBA trade deadline (March 25th) this season. Whether the Pacers want to admit it or not, a decision is needed from Kevin Pritchard and company on if Indiana is willing to part ways with any pieces (Doug McDermott? Aaron Holiday?) with one eye looking to the future. Indiana has played better in the three games since the All-Star break, but they remain 17-21, sitting 3 games out of the final locked in playoff spot (Charlotte as the 6th seed at 20-18). If the Pacers struggle through the next handful of games, upper management must be honest with themselves about the buy/sell direction around the deadline, knowing that any sort of playoff run is unlikely, given the shape of the Eastern Conference.

 

Pacers Upcoming Schedule

-Nets (Wednesday, 3-17, at 7:00 PM)

-@Heat (Friday, 3-19, at 8:00 PM)

-@Heat (Sunday, 3-21, at 1:00 PM)

-@Bucks (Monday, 3-22, at 9:00 PM)

-Pistons (Wednesday, 3/24, at 7:00 PM)