Three full days off for the starters, a purportedly inspiring victory by the reserves in Milwaukee Wednesday followed by a lively practice Thursday that produced a lot of jibber-jabber about refreshed legs and renewed energy, and the Pacers proceeded to play half a game against half the Miami Heat and wound up getting bludgeoned, 98-86, Friday night.
So, what’s up next on the Pacers’ implosion checklist?
Don’t know about yours, but on mine, Roy Hibbert is No. 2.
It’s time to face some hard truths when it comes to the man primarily responsible for the death of the center position on the NBA All-Star ballot.
The first of which is this: somebody else, anybody else, should be starting at center. Not just for the final two regular-season games – for however long the playoffs last.
In 34 minutes in Miami, against a team that lacks anything remotely resembling an actual center, Hibbert did not make a bucket until 4:08 remained in the third quarter, when the game was already out of hand.
He did not pull a rebound until 2:18 remained in the fourth quarter.
HE DID NOT PULL A REBOUND UNTIL 2:18 REMAINED IN THE FOURTH QUARTER.
Swirl those stats around in your mouth and then spit them out quickly. To swallow would induce vomiting.
I’m not sure how much more evidence Larry Bird and Frank Vogel need in order to be convinced of the need for change in the middle.
>> In his last 10 games, Hibbert has averaged 27.3 minutes, 8.5 points, 2.9 rebounds, 1.3 blocked shots and .333 shooting. In his 273 minutes, the Pacers have been outscored by 76 points, so small wonder the team lost eight.
>> His last two have been utterly despicable: 43 minutes, five points, three rebounds, 2-of-12 shooting.
>> In his career, Hibbert had never played at least 30 minutes and grabbed so few rebounds. The man let himself be boxed out by Ray Allen. Enough said.
>> Face it, when you have to bench your guy because the other team has Pero Antic, your guy is limburger.
The empty first half against Antic and the Hawks last Sunday prompted Vogel to bench Hibbert for the second half. The Pacers, who managed a franchise record-low 23 in the first half, racked up 65 in the second which was too little, too late – but a whole lot better than they did with Hibbert.
That alone could’ve convinced Vogel that Hibbert was at least part of the problem with this slumping team. But the coach didn’t want to hang him out to dry, so he benched all five starters in Milwaukee.
In effect, the head coach took an unprecedented risk, putting his own neck on the line with a radical gamble in order to protect his center’s eggshell ego.
The response was a performance in Miami so bland, so passive, so utterly invisible it would need an elephantine testosterone injection just to reach the level of milquetoast.
Can the Pacers win a championship without Hibbert?
Probably not, but it’s increasingly obvious they won’t win more than one playoff series with him. A team can only play four-on-five so long, no matter how good the four.
Vogel has plenty of options. The obvious play would be to move Ian Mahinmi into the starting lineup. Mahinmi is a serial fouler but always plays with energy and runs the floor with abandon.
There’s also Lavoy Allen, who has the requisite size and strength, plus a little bit more of an offensive game than Mahinmi.
If Vogel really wanted to change the team’s look, he could start Chris Copeland as a stretch four and move David West to center.
It’s just possible having a space-making big man on the perimeter would make life a lot simpler for Paul George and Lance Stephenson, open up some driving lanes while causing matchup issues for the other team, for a change.
The same might be true to a lesser degree with Mahinmi or Allen. They aren’t floor-spacers, but they also aren’t lane-cloggers. The center-by-committee approach could also include Luis Scola. Any plan that creates more minutes for the team’s second-best big man is a good thing.
Can you win a championship with Mahinmi, Allen, Copeland or Scola in the starting lineup?
Probably not, but at least you wouldn’t want to claw out your eyeballs watching.