The Herald Bulletin
If you had asked me a month ago what the playoff prospects were for the Indiana Pacers, I would have predicted an Eastern Conference showdown with the Miami Heat.
Now I am not sure they will avoid a first-round ouster by the Atlanta Hawks.
There is no secret what ails Indiana. Over the past two weeks they have collectively decided they no longer want to expend the energy to play good defense.
I am not all that confident that a team of Madison County prep all-stars could put up at least 80 points against them.
Going along with that, the things that come from pure hustle, getting to loose balls first and offensive rebounds have similarly gone in the tank.
So if the reason why the Pacers have been putrid is no secret, then certainly there is a lot of speculation about why the lack of effort has occurred.
The most common theory is that the team is tired. Especially with Danny Granger being sidelined for virtually the entire season, most of the Pacers are playing extended minutes compared to what they have played in the past.
If that’s the case, then the Pacers should come out like gangbusters beginning today at Bankers Life Fieldhouse because they have spent the last two weeks resting.
The only players for which I think that being tired is a legitimate excuse are Paul George and Lance Stephenson. George isn’t necessarily playing a lot more minutes, but he is playing those minutes with a lot more responsibility in Granger’s absence. It is supposed to be his team now and he’s been playing like he’s thinking of selling his shares.
Stephenson’s minutes have certainly grown. He is now part of the starting unit and has taken up some of the slack in replacing Granger’s points.
Not all of the Pacers’ problems are defensive.
They have turned into a dumb team offensively and that problem is directly the responsibility of coach Frank Vogel. Many times during this two-week slide, Indiana has had the dominant talent inside and yet gone large portions of a quarter not getting the ball to either Roy Hibbert or David West down low. They are content to fling away shots from beyond common sense and then not have the hustle to get the long rebounds.
The Pacers have the second best talent in the East even without Granger. But they took a snooze while the New York Knicks went on a tear and passed them in the overall standings. Should they get past the first series, Indiana would give away home court if it plays the Knicks.
My plans for today, if the temperature reaches 60 or higher, are to go to downtown Indianapolis but not to see the Pacers. I am going to Victory Field to see my first Indians game of the season. I am doing it with the firm belief that I am likely to see the Indiana team giving the best effort in the state.
Sports Editor Rick Teverbaugh’s columns appear twice weekly.