All the starters are going to be resting tonight other than George Hill and Roy Hibbert, who Frank Vogel is looking to get into a rhythm. I think he might as well held out everybody. I don’t remember who it was, but somebody stepped in for Dan Dakich* and made the comment that, more than his head, Hibbert’s problem is his legs. I would tend to agree. He’s missing an awful lot at the rim and backing down from a lot of dunks. I suppose that could point to a lack of confidence in his head, but more than that, it tells me there’s a lack of confidence in his legs. He’s not getting the lift or drive he typically gets, so he’s not doing the things he typically does. Now, he has gotten some extra rest, and he and Hill** are not going to play the whole game. Combine that extra rest with the rest that comes along with waiting for the playoffs to start and just the general rest you get from the spread out schedule of the playoffs, and I really think you are going to see a team that looks a lot more like the team that started the year than the one that ended it.
*His father just died, and he gave a great eulogy for him on today’s show. I would suggest you find the podcast and give it a listen.
**Who I have also made the case is much more worn down than usual.
That team? The one that only lost a five games through the first two months of the season, and only one of those at home? That team looked pretty damn good. And, you know, this team is worn down a bit, but they’re not injured. Their biggest injury was CJ Watson, and he looked pretty damn good against the Thunder.* The Heat, on the other hand, can’t seem to count on Dwyane Wade, and I don’t see how that really changes for the playoffs. All the front line help they enlisted to counter Hibbert is out and not likely to return. Do I worry about the Hawks, even with what happened a couple Sundays ago? No, not particularly. Do I worry about either Chicago or Brooklyn? More than I do Atlanta, but I still have no doubt the Pacers can best them in four out of seven games. Especially with home court advantage, which the Pacers will enjoy against the Heat.
*If you’d like, you can throw Bynum in there. He admittedly looked pretty good when he did play. But I’ve been pretty strongly on record that he was never actually part of the plan here.
I wrote it a couple days ago, but I’ll write it again. Was this last month or so fun here in Pacerland? No, not really. But am I scared? No, not really. This team has been totally focused on the playoffs all year, and this team is only going to be judged with how things go in the playoffs. They know that, the fans know that, the media* knows it. And everybody is fine with that. If you really want to see how this team reacts, look at the games they played against better competition lately. They beat the Thunder. They lost the last game to the Heat, but outside the third quarter, they looked pretty good. They beat the Heat in a game that was early in this slide. They did manage to generally defend their home court, even if it was ugly at times.** Would I feel better if the Pacers had finished the season the way they started it? Sure, but I don’t feel half bad after watching them beat a very good Thunder team and break 100 doing it. If that doesn’t show you that this team can still win a championship (cough Greenie cough), then you haven’t been paying attention. Or paid too much attention to the last few weeks. Either way, have some balance, please.
*At least locally. I still don’t think national folks really know much of anything about the Pacers, even after this ascension.
**The game against the Spurs is an exception to all this, but the Spurs are damned good, too.
One more point, and one that I feel has been terribly overlooked by everybody. You might remember that Lance Stephenson has the most triple doubles in the league with five, and you might even remember that the last one came against the Thunder last Sunday. But you know what the biggest problem with this team was during the slump? They couldn’t score the ball, and that was mostly because the ball didn’t move. Too much dribbling, too many jump shots, too many quick shots. When this team was rolling along and looking like a legitimately good offensive team, the ball moved, the points were fairly evenly distributed, and everybody looked better for it. For me, Lance consistently putting up triple doubles or numbers close to it was the perfect sign of that early in the year. If there’s anybody on this team who is especially prone to not sharing the ball, it would be Lance. Those triple doubles, and assists in general, just plain dried up during this stretch. After watching the bench share the ball and making basketball look easy again, it seems to have sparked something. And that something was good for a triple double on Sunday against a very good Thunder team.
And, hey, the only other time the Pacers went to the finals, they were the top seed in the East. It’s all adding up for me. You can spout off about better matchups and all, but I’ll take these guys against anybody.