By any measure, 7-5 is mediocre.
And when you’re trying to win a championship, when you have invested so much physical and emotional collateral in earning homecourt advantage in the postseason, mediocre is unacceptable.
As they head to the All-Star break, the Pacers have a 40-12 record, which gives them a 2.5-game lead over Miami in the East. But you can sense the ground starting to shift beneath their feet.
Since opening their last Western Conference road trip with a victory in Golden State, the Pacers have had more bad losses than good wins, and far more bad performances than good. It could be argued that their two worst outings of the season came in the last three games: a 93-92 loss in Orlando and the mind-numbing 81-73 thing against the Mavericks.
“We don’t like to lose here at home in particular but we’re to 40 wins already so we look at it like that,” said David West. “It’s disappointing because we wanted to close, the loss in Orlando, to come in here and not win it’s disappointing but we’re not going to overreact to it. We’ll just try to regroup and come back and get ourselves rolling again.
“We try to maintain a positive outlook. We’re not going to win every game. The good thing about it is guys are disappointed when we lose because we expect to win every game. We’ve just got to deal with it. We’ve got a few days off here, communicate with one another and just try to get back on track.”
The schedule immediately after the break certainly affords that opportunity: seven consecutive games against teams with losing records, teams currently with a cumulative record of 124-242 (.339).
So it certainly isn’t time to panic, by any stretch, but the Pacers do need to reverse the arc of their season.
“We still have the best record in the NBA,” Danny Granger said. “I think the break will be good. Everybody can kind of go and evaluate what we have done thus far and come back with renewed energy.”
But will the break actually be a good thing for their All-Star contingent?
Paul George has lost his shooting touch, hitting .326 overall and .276 from the 3-point line while averaging just 16.5 points in the last 10 games. Roy Hibbert likewise has faded, averaging 7.5 points in the last six.
Those two, in particular, look like they need a couple of days on the beach.
BYNUM TIMELINE ‘VERY OPEN-ENDED’
Andrew Bynum has been under contract with the Pacers for nearly two full weeks but has yet to practice.
Frank Vogel said Bynum will remain in Indianapolis over the weekend for strength and conditioning work that could extend beyond the break.
“They’re just working on some maintenance types of things with his knees,” he said. “He’s going to be getting treatment and strength and conditioning in his legs, some things basically they feel like they can, not fix, but sort of alleviate some of his issues while there’s no inflammation, while there’s not a lot of duress on his knees.
“So they’re going to try to treat him and work him out every day from a strength and conditioning standpoint and that will continue into the week after and at the right time we’ll get him back on the court.”
Given that Bynum hasn’t played or practiced since he was suspended by the Cavaliers on Dec. 27 for conduct detrimental to the team, it’s reasonable to expect he’ll need at least a couple of weeks of frothy workouts before game action can be considered.
Given the lack of practice opportunities immediately after the break, that could push Bynum’s debut into mid-March at the earliest.
“We understand the plan with Andrew Bynum is to use the end of the season to get him acclimated and up to speed to have him be a force for us in the playoffs,” Vogel said. “That’s the goal. Everything is with that in mind.”
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported that Bynum’s conduct in his final practice with the Cavs may well have been the final straw that led to his eventual departure:
“He stopped trying on the floor, and became a disruptive presence in practices. Before Bynum was thrown out of his final practice and suspended, he was shooting the ball every time he touched it in a practice scrimmage, sources said – from whatever remote part of the court he had caught the ball.”
It didn’t work for Gerald Green, either.