By Marcus Shockley
For the life of me, I can’t figure out what has happened – and, continues to happen – to the Indiana Pacers.
By all rights the Pacers should have already won a title. Over the past two seasons, they consistently outplayed the Miami Heat, but just couldn’t close the deal when it was in their grasp. This is not to take anything away from the Heat; they got the job done when it mattered and the Pacers didn’t. But that’s all history, anyway.
Let’s talk about right now.
The Pacers have a team that is deep, physical, and built to win in the grueling postseason. Everyone is well aware that they stumbled down the home stretch of the regular season, and had to fight to keep their number one seed in the playoffs.
In the first round, the Atlanta Hawks – the eighth seed – pushed the Pacers to brink of elimination, and frankly, looked better than the Pacers for most of the series. Only via a gutty fourth quarter performance by David West in game seven are the Pacers in the second round. After their poor performance in the first round, no one would be surprised if they were eliminated in the second, as they take on the Wizards. The Wizards are not really young, but they do have two very young elite talents in the backcourt.
The first game looked like what most of us would expect, given what we’ve seen so far from both of these teams. The Wizards looked better than the Pacers, even playing on Indiana’s home court. John Wall and Bradley Beal looked unstoppable, especially Beal, and the Pacers look like they don’t even want to be there. Pacers fans have to be discouraged and in a bit of shock of what they are seeing unfold right in front of them.
To be clear, the Wizards have some talent, but it’s not the kind of team you would expect to look like they clearly outmatch the number one seed. One the surface, they have elite wings in Wall and Beal. Nene is a top center and they have depth in the post with Gortat and Drew Gooden. Trevor Ariza has done some nice things. But no one would expect that they (or, frankly, the Hawks) would be making the Pacers look like they shouldn’t have even have made the playoffs.
In an NBA playoff year that been one of the best in some time, the Pacers no longer look like the dark horse. It’s somewhat baffling – is it locker room issues? Has the roster aged to a point where it looks better on paper than in reality?
Will Frank Vogel, who up until a month ago, was being heralded as one of the brightest coaching lights in the NBA, be able to keep his job if the Pacers can’t suddenly start looking like, well, the Pacers?
One thing is certain: as of this moment the Pacers cannot be considered a serious title contender and, while the Heat are the number two seed, they clearly look like the East’s strongest candidate thus far. The Pacers may be on the brink of becoming yet another team that was built for success but could never get over the hump. As a basketball fan, I’m much more excited by what Washington is doing than Indiana, and I would wager most NBA fans feel the same.
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