The Pacers’ plunge continues

VIDEO: Roy Hibbert leaves game early with bone bruise in Pacers’ loss to Wizards

The Pacers play the Jazz on Monday night (7 p.m. ET, League Pass) and it’s interesting that it’s Utah, because the last time these teams met, all was well with Indy.

It was last March 2 when the Pacers won 94-91. David West had a monster game with 25 points. Paul George added 21. Lance Stephenson sank a pair of free throws in the closing seconds to hold off the pesky Jazz. And the Pacers won for the fifth straight time and raised their record to 46-13, best in the East and top three in the NBA.

But life hasn’t quite been the same since for the Pacers.

What we’re witnessing is one of the most dreadful crashes of a contender in the last decade. So many things have happened, and all of them bad. Injuries, poor play, more injuries, defections and, well, the avalanche that buried the Pacers since last March is still building and adding layers.

What if you were told that, eight months later, the retooling Jazz would be the favorite and might even have the better long-term nucleus? Yep, I didn’t think so, either. But the Pacers are 1-6, their worst start since 1993-94 and could be without Roy Hibbert (bone bruise) for a spell, adding more misery to their misery.

The Pacers are probably shaking their heads and still wondering what happened, like the rest of us. They collapsed in the spring, losing four straight after that win over Utah, and closed out the regular season losing 13 of their last 23. It was an astonishing about-face for a team that had a realistic chance to make LeBron James and the Heat sweat. They had to fight off two elimination games to beat the Hawks in the first round, had to go six games against the Wizards and then went out meekly in the East finals against the Heat. All along, their play was shoddy and some of their key players slumped badly, none more than Hibbert, who found himself benched in the playoffs.

And that was the good stretch. What followed over the summer was worse: Losing Stephenson to free agency and George to a gruesome leg injury for perhaps most if not all of this season.

It’s a good thing coach Frank Vogel received a contract extension because he’ll earn it. You hardly recognize the team that Indiana is trotting out on the floor these days. The Pacers have no choice but give extended minutes to players who ordinarily would serve lesser roles. That’s why Chris Copeland, Solomon Hill and Donald Sloan are seeing 31 or more minutes a game. They weren’t even in the rotation last March.

Eventually the Pacers will get West back from a bad ankle, and George might suit up earlier than anyone anticipated, and Hibbert’s injury isn’t serious. And yet they still could struggle to recover from a lousy start and make the playoffs, even in the East. That’s why the Pacers could be sellers at the trade deadline and dangle West and maybe even Hibbert.

Until then, we get Pacers vs. Jazz, Monday night, and my how the world has changed.

14 Comments

  1. TrevionPowell says:

    hold up don’t doubt the pacers they will be back better believe that a big miracle will come and won’t be no stopping it

  2. theholyspectator says:

    pacers peaked after that game 7 loss to the heat in the ECF finals back in 2013. they wont get back there again, it was good while it lasted.

  3. Dance Puppets Dance says:

    1-81 anybody?

  4. hammar says:

    Nothing is guaranteed in life and esp. in sports. Larry Bird will sooner or later know whether Paul George can return to his former self. Until then it will be a long and winding road with many losses.True Indiana fans will have to toughen it out and wait.
    So look for the under dogs to win some games while most of the NBA teams reajust with some hard knocks.

  5. verysadokcfan says:

    I really can’t say much about the Pacers because OKC isn’t doing any better. But they are in the Leastern Conference. So if a Leastern Conference team stinks, they REALLY stink.

  6. Stan The Man! says:

    TIME TO TRADE ROY HIBBERT! HEY WILL NEVER KNOW HIS TRUE (ROLE)….! DEFENSE! HIS FOOT WORK IS HORRIBLE NO UPPER STRENGHT

  7. TheKush says:

    That Granger trade has proven to be disastrous, it destroyed team chemistry and they’re paying for it so many levels now. When you’re a championship caliber team never make huge trades in the middle of the season unless a player is causing havoc in the locker room. In my opinion all of Indiana’s problems stem from the Granger trade it was so unnecessary!

    • Another Cavs Fan says:

      I agree they shouldn’t have traded granger but I don’t think it was all caused by the granger trade.

      Evan turner wasn’t a bad pickup. Bynum was a weird one though (why would you sign a player that has such a poor work ethic?)

      But really you can’t blame team management for it all. Roy Hibbert forgetting how to play basketball in the playoffs against Miami, that was just ridiculous….From All-Star to No-Star overnight.

      And then that very unfortunate Paul George injury…. And the miscommunication on trading Lance Stephenson who didn’t want to be traded…

      All in all it was a series of mistakes and unfortunate incidents. Granger might have been the first mistake, but he wasn’t the only mistake.

    • lbj says:

      There are instances where a trade pushed a contender into being a champion. For example, Rasheed Wallace for the ’04 Pistons.

      But in this case, I agree with the Danny Granger trade. It must have a huge psychological effect on the team. Granger was the face of the Pacers before George was a star. He and David West must have been the ones holding that team together. The trade must have looked great from the point of view of talent and potential but psychologically, it was a very poor decision.

      The acquisition of Bad-Knees-Bynum, on the other hand, was a strategic move, if anything else. The Pacers would rather have him warming up their bench and drinking their Gatorade than have him play for the Heat with the slightest chance that he would have a resurgence.

      Losing Stephensonv (signed with the MJ’s Hornets, not traded), being the young stud and odd-ball of the team, was inevitable. At this stage of his career, Lance will choose, without question, to be the number one wing player on a team than be George’s shadow. The potential career gain just outweighed what the Pacers offered, especially with the looming salary cap explosion.

      Now, George broken leg, that’s just bad luck. I don’t think we’ll see any more Pacers suit up for USA Basketball in 20 years or so.

    • alleighoops says:

      Defending champs Houston Rockets traded one of the more popular and vital rotation players in Otis Thorpe for Clyde Drexler mid season…they were 30-17 at the time and proceeded to go back to back. Some people prone to hyperbole have even called it the Rockets greatest ever trade. If you dont try you never know, if you stand pat you get overtaken blah blah etc etc

  8. Indiana'sownLarryBird says:

    Living in Indianapolis i watch all the Pacer games, There not my favorite team, but there my hometown team so i root for them to do good. The injury’s have been devastating, but the team has played well and been in most of the games this season, but this team is so different from the last few years. They play no defense, and when Hill, and West come back it will help a lot but this team might not make the playoffs…. Reggie Miller Pacer fan…..

  9. Old George says:

    “…And yet they still could struggle to recover from a lousy start and make the playoffs, even in the East…”
    Sounded a little bit disrespectful to the East teams, when the conference arguably got a lot more competitive than last season

    • RJ says:

      Meh, It’s a little better, but it was just pathetic last year. New York’s not anything, The Pistons and Hornets might be in the mix, the Bucks could challenge for a low seed as their talent is developing and they’ve filled out with some nice role players, Brooklyn is probably a top 5 or 6 seed, and they’re really not that impressive, especially once Lopez goes down with a foot injury. I mean, it’s just pretty underwhelming. The Jazz would probably be a 47-35 team in the east this year, but in the west, I’m gueesing they’ll be closer to 37 wins.

      • wherehaveyoubeenlastseason says:

        The Hornets “might” be in the mix?? Many people are picking them to win the (suddenly competitive) southeast division! Al Jefferson is a nightly 20-10 threat, Kemba Walker is a serviceable point guard, as his statistics have been improving annually and so has Charlotte’s wins. MKG has also corrected his jumpshot and is an incredible perimeter defender. To top this off, the Hornets also signed Lance Stephenson this offseason. “might be in the mix” is an incredibly poor statement. The Hornets are a lock for the postseason.