by Kent Sterling
The Indiana Pacers have done the almost impossible. They have defied expectations so many times that exhausted fans have thrown in the towel trying to predict what’s coming next.
Chicago Cubs fans expect to lose every time they walk into Wrigley Field. New England Patriots fans are certain they will win each Sunday. All other sports fans fall somewhere in between but toward the edges.
So reliably unreliable have the Pacers been that fans have completely abandoned the notion of hope for a win or the feeling of dread prior to a predicted loss.
That is a rare outpost in the history of sports for a team that finished atop their division and conference.
Sure, there are 8-8 teams in the NFL with fans that have become ambivalent through mediocrity. Pacers fans are anything but ambivalent. They are passionate, but uncertain.
That’s what happens when a team they expect to win loses, and then wins every time they are expected to win.
Tonight, fans will pour into Bankers Life Fieldhouse for Game Two of the second round series against the Washington Wizards, and they will murmur about which Roy Hibbert with show up. They will also ponder Lance Stephenson’s focus – whether it will be on team success or how he can best position himself for the coming big contract that will set up his family for life.
There will be a lot of chatter about Chris Copeland, an extraordinary shooter who seems to do so many good things on the offensive end that must be on the floor occasionally regardless of how little faith coach Frank Vogel has in his defense.
Smart fans will wonder about the defensive adjustments Vogel will make to keep Trevor Ariza, this series version of Kyle Korver, from draining all six of his three-pointers as he did in Game One.
Others will drink their beer and cast doubt upon the date and time of Vogel’s ouster as coach. They won’t talk about how everyone thought he was a genius for the first three years he spent as head coach – only the last three months of confusion and mediocrity.
When the ball goes in the bucket for Hibbert fans will cheer, and when it doesn’t they will ponder the cause of his self-doubt. Did another Pacer do something with a female friend? Did he suffer a concussion when LeBron James fouled him hard on March 26th? And their boos will rain down if Hibbert falls down while turning the ball over.
By no one’s reckoning has Hibbert played well over the last two months, but no one in NBA history falls with less grace that Hibbert, so he looks especially awkward on these too frequent occasions. Fans love grace and are repelled by awkward
The Pacers will win or lose tonight, and beyond that nothing is certain.
People call this a must-win game, and while there is no logical argument to the contrary, this is not a logical Pacers team. They routinely defy expectations, and make fools of anyone trying to predict what will happen next.
Like Mr. Spock says in “Star Trek IV,” when you remove the impossible, whatever is left must be the truth. The Pacers truth is that this series will not be over until the Wizards post their fourth win. Until then, fans can expect what they choose and accept that the opposite is damn likely.
Counting them out is foolish, and counting them in is even sillier. The only reasonable response to the Pacers postseason plight is to test your own mettle by trying to find a way to enjoy it.
Nothing comes easy for the Pacers – not losing, and certainly not winning. Like it or not, that’s the DNA of this group, so why not like it?