20130429-135523.jpgWhatever word, four-letter or otherwise, that best describes what happened Sunday night, you can rest assured this one does not:

Fatigue.

Try as they might to pass that off as an explanation for the putrid stench that wafted across the floor of Bankers Life Fieldhouse in a 107-88 loss to Atlanta that was so much worse than the final margin suggested, the Pacers simply were selling a broken product.

Yes, they had to spend an extra night in a Toronto hotel because a baggage cart damaged their luxury charter jet after the loss Friday night. Yes, they had a long travel day Saturday.

That just made for a tired excuse.

“Our whole starting five looks worn down to me,” Vogel said.

Why, then, were three of them on the floor deep into the fourth quarter of a game your team never had anything resembling a chance of winning?

“We were trying to win a game,” he said.

It was a little late for that.

At least Vogel, unlike his players, took some initiative, benching the starting lineup midway through the first quarter after the Hawks bolted to a 17-3 lead. Might’ve been a little late for that, too, but at least it was something.

He benched Roy Hibbert for the second half entirely, citing fatigue. But for a coach to single out one of his two All-Stars on a night when the collective effort was just short of comatose screams of a much deeper issue.

“I considered resting Roy in tonight’s game because he looks worn down,” Vogel said. “He’s a 7-2 player that’s played every game this year, which is very rare. He looks to me to be worn down. He’s giving good effort but he looks to me to be worn down.”

For those scoring at home, that’s three uses of “worn down” in four sentences.

Here are some more numbers: Hibbert averages 29.9 minutes per game, 16th among NBA centers, has no injuries to speak of, is 27 years old and by all accounts is one of the most avid offseason conditioners on the roster.

And yet, in the past nine games, the $58 million man has averaged 3.0 rebounds and 34 percent shooting from the field. He has been outplayed, and in some cases dominated, by the likes of Pero Antic, Jonas Valanciunas, Andre Drummond, Spencer Hawes and Marcin Gortat in that span, in which the Pacers lost seven times.

At halftime, with this team trailing 55-23, having set a franchise record for fewest points ever scored in the first half while tying the mark for widest deficit, something happened that set in motion events that could influence not only the next few games, but the next few months.

The story given the public is Vogel told Hibbert to take the rest of the night off, and the big man did not take it well.

“He’ll settle down,” said David West. “The biggest thing for him is he’s harder on himself than anybody else is and he’s down on himself because he feels like he could’ve helped us. But coach made the decision. Coach has to make some tough decisions sometimes and it was to get him some rest, not expose him to a tough night. I felt like some of us could go through it, deal with it, handle it.

“No need to have a 7-2, 300-pound dude chasing guys at the 3-point line, especially in a desperation game where we’re having to scramble for basically the last 24 minutes of the game. Coach made the right choice, let him stay off his feet, even though he didn’t want to do it. Roy didn’t want to do it. Roy was upset with it. It’s just something coach made a decision about.”

Ask yourself this: if all of that is to be taken purely at face value, why would Vogel not commit to Hibbert as the starting center for the Pacers’ next game Wednesday in Milwaukee?

Clearly, the Hibbert matter is the tip of this team’s emotional iceberg.

Paul George’s off-court drama has led to a massive on-court slump – 35 percent shooting in the last 13 games – and rumors of fractured relationships with teammates.

Lance Stephenson’s relentless stat-hunting and unrestrained flair for the dramatic have led to numerous flareups, including the most recent with George Hill.

What once was the feel-good story of the NBA, a gritty, likeable group of overachievers, has devolved into a disparate, loathsome bunch. There’s a reason Larry Bird followed the team into the locker room after the game, and it wasn’t to lead another round of kumbaya.

They used to be greater than the sum of their parts.

Now, they are just parts of a hole.

The Pacers look tired, all right. Of each other.

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