by Kent Sterling
The Indiana Pacers march to the next step in their drive to win an NBA Championship appears to have hit a tall, thick, and insurmountable barricade covered with razor wire. Last night’s 23-point first half against the Atlanta Hawks at Bankers Life Fieldhouse was the most futile offensive result in franchise history.
ESPN called it “putrid”, and they were right.
Fans and media are leaping from a bandwagon upon which they were stacked tall and deep less than three months ago as though Roy Hibbert set it ablaze last night. It was a given that the Pacers would reach the NBA Finals when their record was 33-7. Now, pundits see the disintegration of the positive vibe within the Pacers locker room as evidence that they cannot succeed once the second season starts in 13 days.
Can the Pacers fix themselves? Has Roy Hibbert lost the will to compete with teammates he recently believed to be brothers? Is Frank Vogel the right man to lead this group to the next level? Did the moves by Larry Bird that appeared to be so smart at the time erode the positive collective mindset that was a big part of last year’s run?
Lot’s of questions, and I have answers:
- Yes, they can and will fix themselves.
- No, Hibbert is an emotional guy, and last night’s ridiculous behavior will be the lever that brings him back to the group.
- Yes, the coach is an overvalued influence on the players. Vogel does his work, and the players need to do theirs. Players like David West, Rasual Butler, George Hill, and Luis Scola need to hold the rest of the team accountable. If Vogel is needed to motivate great effort, the Pacers need to re-tool their roster.
- No, the trade for Scola, signings of West and Paul George were, midseason signing of Andrew Bynum, and the Danny Granger trade were the exact right moves.
Those are my answers, and until I’m proven wrong when it matters, I’m sticking with them. Before you think I’m some pie in the sky doofus, I also predicted the Pacers would lose 10 of their last 15 regular season games. After 11 of those 15 games, the Pacers are 3-8. If they beat the Bucks and Magic, and lose to the Heat and Thunder, I hit that prediction on the number.
The problem with the Pacers isn’t chemistry, strategy, or a matter of will. It’s fatigue. Tired legs and tired minds are impossible to overcome. When the playoffs start, the brains will freshen. Without a back-to-back left on the schedule, the legs will bounce back.
Don’t sell the Pacers short in finding a way to grab that #1 seed either. The Heat game in Miami is a must Friday night, and while it seems like a longshot after scoring 23 points in one of the worst first halves ever played (only four points of the 19 scored by the Clippers during the first half vs. the Lakers in December, 1999), the light is going to flicker on and off until the regular season ends. Why can’t it flicker on against the Heat?
Fan and media worries about the Pacers will vanish as quickly as they came once the postseason starts and the Pacers start playing with renewed focus on strong legs. That is not the majority view, but I’m very comfortable alone out here on this increasingly skinny limb.
Eighty-two games with laser focus, the stated goal of the Pacers prior to the season, is not possible. After a summer of dedicated work, an intense preseason, and a remarkable first 40 games, the Pacers buckled, but buckling is not breaking.
I’m sticking with Roy Hibbert, Frank Vogel, Paul George, and the rest of the Pacers as long as they still have bullets left, and right now they have plenty.