On January 27, the Indiana Pacers beat the Charlotte Hornets 116-106, ran their record to 11-7, and looked like they might even make a surge and ride it all the way to a top-3 seed in the Eastern Conference, which is as bad as any NBA conference has been below its top teams in 40 years.
As this article goes to press, the Pacers are 15-18, losing four straight and five of their last six. They are 4-11 since that win in late January.
The natural question is “what happened?”
Well, you know how the cracks were showing as early as five weeks ago, as the team had a top-heavy minutes distribution to hide the fact that nobody on the squad apart from Domantas Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon is any good?
Well, Brogdon got hurt. As we all knew he would; missing a quarter of the season due to injury has been Brogdon’s calling card for as long as he’s been in the league. The guy simply cannot stay on the floor.
Add that to T.J. Warren, another guy whom Kevin Pritchard was able to prize away from his former team because the ever-present threat of injury hung over his trade value, and what you’ve got is a team that has been decimated.
Throw in Caris LeVert‘s continued recovery from the discovery of a cancerous mass on his kidney after the Pacers effectively traded Victor Oladipo for him, and tissue paper hardly suffices to describe the depth of this team’s roster.
Brogdon is back on the active roster, but in addition to Warren and LeVert, Indiana was without Jeremy Lamb and Doug McDermott for all or most of a blowout 130-114 loss to Philadelphia that dropped the Pacers all the way from their previous spot in fourth down to a tie for ninth in the East.
Even though the NBA is doing an extended playoff format with play-in games down to the 10 seed in each conference, Indiana might not even do that well; the Atlanta Hawks sit just one game behind them in the standings, with 14-21 Cleveland and even 13-20 Washington within shouting range of a collapsing Pacers squad that simply cannot win a game against even a decent NBA team these days.
The Pacers haven’t beaten a team that currently holds a winning record in four weeks, beating Memphis on February 2.
Most of the teams they’ve lost to in the ensuing four weeks have been at least decent, but a playoff team is supposed to beat teams that are “at least decent.”
Losing to Milwaukee, Philadelphia, or Brooklyn is understandable. Losing to the Knicks, Bulls, and needing overtime to beat the wretched Timberwolves, owners of the league’s worst (7-28) record? That’s a different story.
They’ve gone 1-5 in six games. 3-9 in twelve. 4-11 in fifteen. 4-11 is a 22-60 pace over 82 games and leads only Minnesota for worst winning percentage in the league when taken in a vacuum. Had Minnesota won that game, the Pacers would be looking at being the undisputed worst team in the NBA based on play in the last four weeks.
Brogdon’s only missed one game so far, but he’s hobbled. Anyone who thinks he’s not missing at least 10 games of the second half of the season is deluding themselves.
Myles Turner continues to be anemic offensively when the team needs him to step up. Leaving the second unit in the hands of guys like Aaron Holiday, Edmond Sumner, T.J. McConnell, and Goga Bitadze? That’s the bench of…well, a 22-60 team.
Holiday still has negative Win Shares in 33 games and a very telling six starts this year.
The team is 17th in Offensive Rating and 14th in Defensive Rating, riding the fumes of a solid early season to keep from dropping off a cliff, but an 11-7 start can only carry you for so long as the 18 games mark just a quarter of this year’s schedule.
The Pacers look like a team that might not win 25 out of 72 games this year. It’s entirely possible that this team could continue that 4-11 pace and end up 10-29 over the last 39 games of the year.
Buckle up, Pacers fans. The season’s over as a competitive enterprise, but we still have more than half the games left to watch.