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Thursday, February 9, 2023

Enjoy the Pacers, but keep your expectations realistic

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There’s a buzz around the sports landscape of Indianapolis, and I’m not talking about the collapse of your beloved Indianapolis Colts.

I’m referring to the Indiana Pacers, who haven’t been relevant in the NBA for a long time. In fact, the last time they were anything more than an afterthought in their opponents’ mind, I had a full head of hair, sported a 32-inch waist line, and gasoline was available at an affordable rate.

Say what you will about the NBA being a highly diluted product, one that lacks both fundamentals and discipline, it’s still great news to see the Pacers playing hard and defeating some of the lesser teams in the league that used to have their number routinely.

Granted, there’s only a small handful of teams that can win the championship, and the Pacers are still lightyears away from that atmosphere, but they are trending in the right direction, and that’s both surprising and satisfying to their faithful fans, who have suffered immensely for the last decade with some really pathetic basketball being offered in exchange for their hard-earned ducat money.

It all starts with coaching, and Rick Carlisle has been nothing short of phenomenal in terms of developing a rotation that doesn’t contain a superstar.

His approach to utilizing virtually every player on the roster in some fashion has been a thing of beauty to watch, and this group is playing hard at both ends of the floor. There’s a ton of youth on this team, and that clearly translates to strong legs in the fourth quarter. Combine that with some speed and improved perimeter shooting, and all of a sudden they’re 12-8, sitting in fourth place if the Eastern Conference as of this writing, which would qualify them to be hosting a first round playoff series.

That’s beyond surreal.

Every solid basketball team sports a solid point guard, and the Pacers are enjoying the coming out party that is Tyrese Haliburton, who as of this writing leads the NBA in assists while also contributing 20 points a night as an extension of his head coach on the floor.

Rookie Ben Mathurin has shown both bravado and the ability to score, hitting for 19 points per contest, and has become a sorely needed presence on both of the backboards as well. Buddy Hield has demonstrated both athleticism and the propensity to hit perimeter shots, and both Jalen Smith and Andrew Nembhard have been rock-solid most nights.

That brings us to the elephant in the room, Myles Turner.

Despite the constant trade rumors and the Jimmy Olsen wannabes like myself calling for him to be traded for draft capital, Turner has been effective registering 18 points per contest with eight caroms a night and blocking nearly three shots per game.

All the aforementioned is great news for Pacers fans, but the reality is what Carlisle has said all along, which is that you’re judged by how you play against legitimate playoff teams, and the sample size for this surprising group is still way too diminutive to calculate an educated projection. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy this team; just keep things in perspective and that will temper any dissatisfaction that occurs when they don’t perform well every night.

You’ve waited patiently for something to cheer about, so have at it. Just remember this group is young, and so far the schedule has been a bit favorable. Give them some patience along with your support, and see where it goes. One thing is for certain: They’ve improved, and so far it’s been fun to watch, but temper your expectations to a reasonable level and sit back and let it play out for a while.

Maybe they’ll continue to surprise you if they can stay healthy and listen to a coach that is a legit Hall of Famer. Then again, maybe they nose dive and come back down to Earth. Either way it should be enjoyable. Savor it, Pacers fans.
You’ve certainly deserve it.

Notes: l still think the Pacers will move Myles Turner by the trade deadline for draft capital as opposed to tendering a new contract. While he’s made some ludicrous statements this season, he’s played quite well at times and has always been a solid individual off the court.

His quiet benevolence in this community and beyond can’t be overlooked. I wish him the best, wherever he may land, but it’s highly unlikely he’s a Pacer much longer.

Danny Bridges, who thinks Rick Carlisle is a viable candidate for Coach of the Year at this juncture, can be reached at 317-370-8447 or bridgeshd@aol.com.

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