Although I swear that my spectacular Indiana Pacers wallet calendar insists that we're heading into the 09-10 NBA season, the players, mediocrity and drama from last year is back. I thought the summer was supposed to wash the stink of another non-playoff season off this franchise. But after five preseason games, nothing much has happened to suggest a recharging, reawakening or revival within the soul of a team that's dog paddling in circles around the drain.
Win one game. Lose one game. Blow out a good team. Get blown out by a bad team. It's all too familiar. Teeter-totter and back-and-forth. The Pacers are sitting 2-3 in this preseason, with each win followed by a loss and vice versa.
If you find the preseason at least gives a slight nudge in the direction of how a season might go, then the Pacers are headed for another 35-40 win season, just like the pundits across the web predicted.
This year's preseason has actually already shifted the great teams to the top of the standings and the bottom feeders to the depths. Take a look at them here. Boston, Orlando, Atlanta top the East, while Dallas, San Antonio and the Lakers top the West. Only Cleveland looks out of place with its 3-3 record without leader LeBron James in action.
As of now, the Pacers sit uncomfortably at the No. 11 spot in the East. It's right where you would expect the same wishy-washy blue and gold squads from the past two years to be, but I was hoping this year would be a little different. But has there been anything that should get everybody revved up for the season opener at Conseco "Reggie Miller" Fieldhouse?
Things we've learned this preseason: Danny Granger will again shoot the lights out, while still struggling to push the defensive intensity from the opening minute to the final buzzer; Brandon Rush is still shaky; T.J. Ford finally has ownership of the starting guard, but that's really a statement on the players behind him and not on his overall improvement; the ineptness of the team's training staff continues to keep players on the bench for elongated stretches of time (Why is Travis Diener missing the entire preseason over a sore toe?); the team struggles mightily without Granger in the lineup; the third quarter continues to be the kiss of death and Achilles's Heel against good and bad teams.
I wrote before the Taiwan trip that I was hoping the few weeks spent together would gel this group together in a montage-movie moment, where they might even visit a monk and find "the answer" thus spurning an unbelievable season and a trip to the Finals. Bruno never showed a video of a trip to a monk. Unfortunate. But, really, I thought the trip might bring the team together to find a common goal, get to know each other and want to win for one another.
But I forgot that this team is totally opposite of the tumultous players of the past Pacers teams of this decade. Although those teams were filled with talented lunatics, at least they had a fire to win. This team showed the eye of the tiger, if you will, in wins over the Lakers, Celtics and Cavs last year and then...well, the fire went out in a flash. Remember that after each of those amazing three wins, the Pacers came out limp in the next games and lost by a combined 40 points to the Suns, Celtics and Bucks, each being double-digit losses. After watching (listening) to five preseason games, doesn't it feel like this team is headed down the same road this year? One game they look like they could take out the Lakers, and the next game they're giving up by the third quarter to a team like the Grizzlies.
We know this team doesn't have the talent to be a title contender. We know it barely has the talent to be considered in the running for a No. 8 seed. So it's going to take a little fire, a little edge and a little controlled lunacy to get this team headed in the right direction.
Pop in Hoosiers. Put on Rocky. Show Rudy. Get something to get this team going before each game. Maybe a couple of the "unknowns" heading into the season actually turn out positive and help kick start the team (i.e. Tyler Hansbrough, Mike Dunleavy, Diener's toe). Anything would be helpful.
Like any other ticket-buying customer, I'm still holding out hope with lots of optimism that the preseason is just that -- the dumb preseason -- and it means nothing in the long haul. But would it kill the team to end the dang thing with two straight wins, two great performances and some momentum heading into the opener at Atlanta?
Sounds like its time for a montage. Let's get the eye of the tiger, Pacers. Eye of the tiger.