I Love The Indiana Pacers

Normally, in this Tuesday column space, I take a Very Serious Look™ at some element of Pacers basketball, like whether the team can play enough defense to hold a lead, whether Myles Turner will ever evolve into a strong rebounder, whether Bojan Bogdanovic is suddenly an elite wing shooter, and whether Victor Oladipo is better than Paul George (yes. The answer is yes. Victor Oladipo is a star and you better recognize. And the rise of Domantas Sabonis and the hot steaming garbage heap that is the Thunder’s season means Kevin Pritchard won the trade with Oklahoma City. Those who bet on that, please claim your ticket at the window, and I hope you got pretty long odds on it.)

But for the love of the gods, Indiana is 12-9, they’ve won seven of nine…wait…

Oh yeah, NBA. Resistance is futile.

And yes. Everything could go horribly wrong. Bogie could turn into a pumpkin. Someone or multiple someones could get hurt (ask the Clippers how that’s going for them, then ask David Fizdale for his thoughts on the subject.)

But for now? Forget about the record for a minute, this is the most utterly fun Pacers team to come along since…oh, I don’t know, since Ron Artest wasn’t crazy yet and Austin Croshere was the fan favorite white guy in the No. 44 jersey? Since the first go-round with Lance Stephenson when he blew in LeBron’s ear and created the most enduring meme in Pacers franchise history if not the whole NBA (sorry, Crying Jordan, you’ve got nothing on Blowing Lance.)

Sixth-best in points per game and tenth-worst if you just care what the final score was (average Pacers game: Indiana 109, Other Team 107. That’s fun basketball.) Sixth in Offensive Rating and 19th in Defensive Rating if you prefer to adjust for Indiana’s 99.0, ninth-in-the-league, faster than a speeding Reggie Miller scoring outburst pace.

And this is Nate Freaking McMillan coaching this team! Nate, whose pace in Portland while the rest of the league pulled itself out of the Dark Ages and toward Mike D’Antoni‘s Shining Light of Basketball That Doesn’t Suck got as low as 86.6 possessions a game, and that was with Kevin Pritchard as the Blazers GM, a position he now holds in Indiana.

86.6! Consider that if all teams ever did in a basketball game was commit shot clock violations, the pace of the game would be 60 (48 minutes divided by 24 seconds divided by two teams.) Blazers basketball was about as much fun in 2009 as watching shot clock violations, high-scoring only because they had the league’s best offense…and 13th-best defense, by far the best defensive team McMillan ever coached.

But the Pacers aren’t a boring slog (you’re thinking of the last two years of Paul George’s tenure with the team first under Frank Vogel and then under McMillan.)

This is a youthful team that plays with energy, enthusiasm, a devil-may-care attitude that…get this…no, seriously, get ready…

DOESN’T BLOW BIG LEADS IN THE FOURTH QUARTER!

Unless Kristaps Porzingis happens. But, y’know, he’s a unicorn, which is not a kind of corn normally found in the heartland. Indiana corn is more “pop” or “field” or “sweet”, not “uni”.

Indiana is normally a state so utterly unable to comprehend the concept of fun that they thought Mike Pence was charismatic. (I’m saying nothing of his politics—Republicans buy sneakers too—only pointing out that having Mike Pence around is about as joyful as working in a morgue.)

So to have Oladipo and Turner and Bogie and Domas and LANCE GODDAMN STEPHENSON DEAR GODS YOU GUYS…and that’s before you consider that Glenn Robinson III, who won the freaking dunk contest, is on his way back from injury to make breakfast time a lot more fun around here!

And as for Lance, well, Serious Me will point out that he is basically the worst combination of piss-poor shot selection and psychotic hubris, like J.R. Smith but without the big-game pedigree.

Then Fun-Loving Me will watch him singlehandedly keep the team in the game against Toronto even as he’s trying desperately to turn the ball over on every possession in the fourth quarter and think what a mad, amazing, fun ride.

So the Pacers are 12-9. They’re 7-2 since it looked like they were going to sink into the dismal sub-mediocrity the season previews predicted.

And I love this team.