It’s fine if you want to say you knew this was how the season would go for the Indiana Pacers: that they would be three games above 500 at 25-22, good enough for the sixth seed of the NBA playoffs starting right now, and just a couple of games out of a seeding that would allow them to host a first-round playoff series. That would be a lot different from my prediction in which I said they’d struggle to win 30 games, and if they did, Nate McMillan should get every vote for NBA coach of the year. Now that one of us is being honest about their prediction, lets take a closer look at this team.
Clearly, no one expected the players the Pacers received in exchange for Paul George to play at a high level right out of the box, but that’s exactly what has happened. Victor Oladipo has emerged as a legitimate All-Star candidate, and has given his employer reason to believe that in this season, he may be able to carry the team on his back. With 24 points per night, coupled with five rebounds and four assists that are beyond your wildest dreams, it’s the energy he brings to the floor and the enthusiasm he plays with that are, in the opinion of this old scribe, invaluable. While the spotlight has been placed on Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis has been nearly as surprising, as he’s shown a propensity to mix it up in the paint and crash the boards in route to averages of 12 points per night, along with a team leading eight rebounds per game as well.
When you factor in Darren Collison at the point, along with Cory Joseph off the bench, you have a formable quartet of talent that has either overachieved (my opinion) or come into their own, which the Pacers at this point would prefer to believe.
Missing from the aforementioned is Myles Turner, who missed 14 games to date this season with first a concussion, and now an elbow injury. Despite averaging 14 points per game to go along with six rebounds, the talented third-year player has yet to look totally comfortable when on the floor.
Part of that can be attributed to his lack of interest in playing in the post and his preference to play on the wing or just outside the three-point line. He also has had some difficulty adjusting to no longer being the focal point of this team due to Oladipo’s emergence, even though that territorial strife has been denied by both players.
Regardless, this team has exceeded expectations to date — and while that’s certainly a great problem to have — what they do down the stretch in a quest to return to the playoffs is crucial. When I say problem, I’m referring to how they will react to the point of the season when things generally level out for teams that start off well and they eventually return to earth.
Then again, after Golden State, the rest of the NBA is up for grabs, so why not assume you can win every night until someone proves differently? This team can only do that if they improve defensively and avoid getting behind early.
Life on the road in the NBA is where teams who are true contenders must flex their collective muscles, and to date the Pacers are a rather lethargic 11-12.
That’s a statistic that does not lie and it’s not realistic to think a rather young team can turn those numbers around down the stretch. So, as a season that still offers great promise continues, will this group make the playoffs? Well they should, as the talent is there and the Eastern Conference simply isn’t that strong. If they don’t, it will undoubtedly and perhaps unfairly, be categorized as a failed season.
One thing is for sure: It’s been interesting and despite the ups and downs the home crowd has probably gotten their monies worth. So I was wrong about 30 wins being the ceiling for this team, but the season isn’t over yet. Don’t crown them as anything other than a pleasant surprise and remain patient. Despite a ton of new faces on the roster, the chemistry has been decent and generally the effort has too.
Sure they’ve been out-hustled a few games and overpowered in the pivot a few times as well — while still being vulnerable to the pick and roll — but the jury is still out.
Yes they are still a mystery, but they’ve been better than you thought they would be and they are yours. That counts for something, and if they continue the effort, people will keep coming out and be forgiving when things don’t go right.
Now then, about my prediction of 29 wins and 53 losses…
Danny Bridges, who was also incorrect about the Presidential election, and plays the wrong lottery numbers every week, can be reached at 317-370-8447 as well as Bridgeshd@aol.com