CHICAGO -- Troubling words emanated from a sullen Indiana Pacers locker room after Monday's loss to the Chicago Bulls and before Wednesday's important game against the Miami Heat.
"It just seems like we're not clicking," Pacers All-Star center Roy Hibbert said. "We should be clicking right now toward the end of the season."
On the other side of the locker room, All-Star swingman Paul George agreed.
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"Our execution isn't where we want it to be," George said. "We're nowhere near where we want to be as far as screening, setting guys up, moving with some energy and cutting off the ball. Everything's just lackadaisical. That's going to get you beat."
The Pacers are 7-7 in March and struggling offensively. Whether it's a case of the late-winter doldrums and the grind of an 82-game season wearing on the Pacers or more serious problems, they are searching for answers.
With three weeks remaining, the Pacers have time to figure it out and they could get their offense headed in the right direction against the Heat, another team which can play strong defense.
"It's going to be a challenge but I think it's another great opportunity for us," George said.
The surefire Eastern Conference finals matchup between the Pacers and Heat – it's not like Miami is rolling – isn't so surefire anymore especially as the Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls and Toronto Raptors improve.
The Heat trail the Pacers by one in the loss column and could be just a game behind Indiana with a victory. ESPN is treating it like a playoff game with on-site coverage throughout the day from SportsCenter led by Sage Steele, Tim Legler, Michael Wilbon and Stephen A. Smith and Countdown with Doris Burke. Jalen Rose and Avery Johnson.
And regardless if both teams downplay the importance of home-court advantage, if these two teams meet in the playoffs and if there's a Game 7, both teams would prefer to have that final game at home. The Pacers and Heat play each other in the regular season one more time April 11 with potentially even more at stake.
Hibbert admitted the offense is a serious concern. "I think so. It's at that point," he said.
In March, the Pacers' points per game and shooting percentage are below their season averages, and they are scoring 99.4 points per 100 possessions. For the season, Indiana ranks first in points allowed per game and 22nd in points per game.
Assists and offensive rebounds are also down this month. In the past two games against Memphis and Chicago – both strong defensive teams – the Pacers did not crack 80 points.
It's a lack of execution and energy leading to an unproductive offense, according to George and Hibbert.
"I just look at other teams' play and they just swing, swing, swing the ball and somebody gets an open shot or a wide-open layup," Hibbert said. "How do we get those types of shots where we don't have to heave something up at the end of the shot clock? With that type of stuff, you can't get into a rhythm. It's just not one-on-one basketball."
Hibbert wasn't calling anyone out specifically, and George said he is sometimes guilty of trying to do too much but added, "I only have good intentions to try and get something going for us offensively and just be aggressive."
Escaping the offensive malaise is time sensitive for the only team in the East with 50 victories.
"If we do get that point (in the playoffs) and face those guys (the Heat) again – if we do – we have to figure this thing out now because they're such a good team, they're going to sniff that out," Hibbert said.
It's not like the Pacers finish the season easy, either. Besides two games against the Heat, they play five other playoff teams, including the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder.
"We have to do a better job of playing with more energy," George said. "We've just been dead, it seems, on the court lately. That's not us. We used to be a team that played with a lot of energy. I thought we kind of lost that. … I don't know what happened to it, where it went, but we're going to need that because that's when we're special."