HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — With fifteen combined losses, a coaching change and plenty of issues still needing to be resolved, it’s safe to say that both the Los Angeles Lakers and Indiana Pacers have begun this season in ways no one expected from either of these supposed contenders.
Their struggles, both on and off the court, could be construed by some as character-building hurdles for teams on their way to bigger and better things. On the flip side, the flaws we’ve seen through this first month of the regular season could also be a preview of what’s in store for two teams that need to reveal their true identities before the calendar flips to 2013.
Tonight’s matchup between the Lakers and Pacers in Los Angeles (10:30 ET, League Pass) could be billed as the disappointment bowl, what with the Pacers (6-8 and losers of seven of their last 11 games) dragging themselves across the country to face a Lakers team (7-7) fighting to stay around the .500 mark as they transition from Mike Brown‘s Princeton offense-based system to Mike D’Antoni‘s up-tempo attack.
How these two teams reached this point of the season with such underwhelming results is a bit of a mystery given all of the expectations heaped upon both of them. The high expectations for Indiana were forged after its near breakthrough effort against the Miami Heat in the East semifinals last season. For L.A., the expectations grew after its summer acquisitions of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard.
Neither team has been able to harness the momentum needed to push their way into the elite category this season. The Lakers blew things up after five games and still can’t decide if they’re going to get serious about becoming a championship team or continue clowing around as if all they need is a little more time — and a healthy Nash back in the lineup — to correct whatever is wrong.
Still, the Lakers appear to have an easier road back to respectability. When Nash returns, D’Antoni will have his favorite trigger man at the controls of his offense, theoretically making life better for Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and everyone else. They’ll have a chance to find a comfort zone throughout the holiday season while getting all their big stars aligned and in a collective groove.
The Lakers have actually played winning basketball without Nash, going 7-5, but his absence has had a significant impact on the progress (or lack thereof) this team has made since training camp. D’Antoni acknowledged the dilemma to ESPNLosAngeles.com‘s Dave McMenamin:
“We’re doing it without (Nash), who is kind of the engine that is going to drive us forward,” D’Antoni said. “So we’re going to have some bumps along the road.”
Steve Blake (strained abdomen) did not practice. He continues to be listed as day-to-day.
Nash and Blake have been ruled out for Tuesday’s game against the Indiana Pacers.
“I told (Nash) and I told Steve Blake … we’ve got 68 games left,” D’Antoni said. “I’d rather them play (the) 61 final games instead of them playing six and then missing 20 and then playing the rest of them.
“It’s important that they keep progressing. Whether they play Tuesday or Friday or next Saturday, it doesn’t really matter where (they come back). It’s that when they play, the rest of the time they’re ready to roll.”
Things aren’t quite as simple for the Pacers, who not only have to play without Danny Granger (knee) for three months, but also have to contend with one of the league’s toughest early season schedules. Twelve of their first 18 games will be played on the road, a factor coach Frank Vogel is working hard to manage for a team that seems a bit shell-shocked that at their struggles thus far.
“I encouraged our guys to keep any frustrations in perspective and understand we play 41 at home and 41 on the road,” Vogel told the Indianapolis Star. “We’re weathering the storm of an early tough part of our schedule … Just manage it, stay in the hunt and we’ll have our run. It could happen now; it could happen later.”
The Pacers were supposed to have a clear path to the Central Division title after the Bulls lost All-Star point guard Derrick Rose for the majority of the season due to his ACL injury suffered in the 2012 playoffs.
The Bulls have done their part, but it’s the Milwaukee Bucks, not the Pacers, who have stepped into the void early on.
Time could be on the Pacers’ side, however, especially if they do what Vogel said and survive this current crisis, highlighted by Curt Cavin of the Star:
Indiana (6-8) has a four-game homestead in January and a five-game stretch in February, part of a 9-of-11 run in Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
That could coincide with the return of Danny Granger, the 6-8 forward who is out three months with a knee problem.
George Hill said all of that could help the playoff push.
“In a perfect world we wish we could come home and play (now),” he said. “I feel like we haven’t been home for two or three games.
“That part (stinks), but it will be a lot better once we hit February and we’re not traveling a lot. I’ll take the lumps and bruises now.”
Much like the Lakers, the Pacers need to be careful assuming that time will heal whatever ails them now. Sometimes lumps, bumps and bruises leave scars that never go away.
And sometimes, expectations have a way of devouring a team from the inside and turning what was supposed to be in what never was.