Have the Pacers hit rock bottom? Or will it get worse?

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

“Everything will usually get worse before it gets better,” says a poem by Timothy Pina. (At least that’s what the internet tells me.) But when does that final level of worse get here? What is rock bottom?

Is rock bottom trailing by 35 at home to the Atlanta Hawks, a team that lost 14 of 15 earlier this season? Are the Pacers at the lowest of lows when All-Star center Roy Hibbert is benched in the second half, and his body language suggests he doesn’t even care?

Or can it get worse?

We’ve continually thought the Pacers found the bottom. They scored under 80 in back-to-back games against Memphis and Chicago, but then rebounded to beat Miami at home. So, all was good.

But that win was followed up by two more road stinkers, a 91-78 loss to the Wizards then a 90-76 loss to the Cavaliers. Ok, it can’t get worse than that, right? San Antonio was coming to Indianapolis. Surely the Pacers would snap out of the funk and play up to the level of the Spurs?

Nope. San Antonio 103, Indiana 77.

But then came two games of hope. A win over Detroit that saw Paul George hit a bizarre jumper from the mid-court logo that drew smiles from the team. Then the Pacers went to Toronto and broke 80 points for the second straight game, and although they fell by eight, it was a reassuring game. A moral victory.

But then Sunday happened.

A 17-3 Atlanta run to start the game. Frank Vogel ditched the starters for a lineup of Donald Sloan, Evan Turner, Rasual Butler, Luis Scola and Ian Mahinmi. And it didn’t exactly get better.

The Pacers trailed 33-11 after the first quarter and had a franchise-low 23 points at halftime.

Maybe that was it. Maybe that half was rock bottom. 23 points in 24 minutes – at home – to the eighth seed in the East. Maybe that’s the floor, the absolute worst.

After all, the Pacers did put together a 36-point third quarter and a 65-point half. They were never actually made the Hawks sweat, but 65 points in a half is a lot, considering the Pacers were held under 80 in four quarters five times during a 10-day stretch in March.

But what if rock bottom is still not upon us? What if the Pacers manage to embarrass themselves in Milwaukee on Wednesday night? What if the Heat and Thunder steam roll Indiana to close out the week?

It’ll get better for Indiana, presumably this season. But when? The embarrassment against Atlanta might the absolute worst, but the scary thing is that we don’t know if it is.

REST

Frank Vogel mentioned rest as a reason for Hibbert not playing the entire second half, even though the rest of the starters played over 30 minutes. Also, Hibbert has a bad matchup with any big man that can stretch the floor by hitting threes, which was another reason given by Vogel for not playing Hibbert.

But when did Hibbert become a situational player? When did Vogel start matching up to the opponent, rather than force their hand? Is Ian Mahinmi really a better perimeter defender than Hibbert?

Besides that, the Pacers were actually using West on Pero Antic and Hibbert on Paul Millsap before the starters got benched.

But the notion of rest brings up an interesting point. Should the Pacers concede the top seed in the East – their stated goal this whole season – by sitting the starters so they can get fresh, physically and mentally? Matt Moore of CBS Sports suggested that earlier this month.

Paul George has played the fifth most minutes in the NBA this season. Lance Stephenson is at 15. Hibbert is averaging the fewest minutes of the starters at 29.9 per game.

The Pacers starting five is the most used five-man lineup in the NBA at 1,432 minutes. Only two other teams have a lineup that has played over 1,000 minutes, Portland and Minnesota.

Resting the starters, who appear more mentally than physically drained, could even help out the bench. C.J. Watson could return on Wednesday, and could get heavy minutes to knock off rust. Luis Scola could find his jumper and confidence and become the solid bench scorer the Pacers traded for.

Maybe even Evan Turner could find some success. He played well against Toronto – his defense was actually pretty good on DeMar DeRozan – but he has struggled to actually put the ball into the basket. He’s 9 of 27 in the last five games.

So tank for the two seed. Forget home court advantage in the Eastern Conference Finals. Because getting out of the first round is looking more and more impossible. And Atlanta does present matchup problems for Indiana, and the Pacers struggle in Philips Arena. So avoid the Hawks, and rest the big guns, Indiana.

Writing a sentence that suggests a 50-win team should try and avoid the Atlanta Hawks is probably some sort of rock bottom for me.

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