What a difference a year makes.
NBA.com's John Schumann points out that at this time last year the Pacers, coming off quality wins against the Chicago Bulls and Brooklyn Nets on the second night of back-to-backs, were the only team in the league without a loss. Last week, Indiana (0-4) joined the Philadelphia 76ers (0-4), Denver Nuggets (0-4), and New York Knicks (0-4) as the only teams to go without a win during the second week of the 2014-15 NBA season.
A year ago, December 10, 2013 - marking the first meeting between the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat - was a date worth circling on calendars. Now, on November 12, 2014, the two former beasts of the East will face off once again on national television. Only this time, the fact that this game is actually a rematch between the two Eastern Conference Finalists is barely even a footnote.
Once sparking heated discussions about the inherent subjectivity of officiating the law of verticality or the merits of ear-blowing, the only notable happening bringing any juice to this edition of the what once could have been loosely described as a rivalry is Danny Granger's backhanded remark about the Pacers' organization supposedly pressuring him to play before he was ready:
Danny Granger on his hamstring injury: "The good thing about Miami is they won’t put you on the floor on a half leg or hobbling."— Jason Lieser (@PBPjasonlieser) November 7, 2014
Danny Granger on his hamstring injury: "In years past, I would have played and been limited, but they don’t do that here, which is good."— Jason Lieser (@PBPjasonlieser) November 7, 2014
Times have changed.
LeBron James is in Cleveland. Lance Stephenson is a Hornet. And the most clicked video on Pacers.com is Paul George shooting around-the-world at practice. To quote Allen Iverson, "We talkin' about practice. Not a game. Not a game. We talkin' about practice."
And so is the current plight of the Indiana Pacers.
Where taking a quality Washington Wizard's team to overtime on the road feels like a win in and of itself. Where finishing a game without an injury update is an accomplishment. Where small victories (i.e. Donald Sloan's 31-point career game or Solomon Hill's 28-point career game), rather than victories themselves, are what make the games compelling, and where "Copesanity" is apparently a thing.
Waxing nostalgic, the various NBA Power Rankings, while still fair, are generally solicitous about the state of the former contender.
Necessarily having to apply for and utilize the NBA's hardship exception, SB Nation's Drew Garrison astutely points out that there is not much to say about the Pacers beyond the word "injuries." Failing to pick-up a win while dealing with a revolving door of line-up changes, Garrison slid the Pacers down to No.27. While wishing the Blue-and-Gold a speedy recovery, he urges fans to enjoy what he terms as "Copesanity" (the phenomenon of Chris Copeland transforming from last-man up to the team's leading scorer).
There are no moral victories in the NBA, but Sports Illustrated's Matt Dollinger's credits the short-handed Pacers for keeping games close. Having only lost last week's four contests by an average of 4.5 points, Indiana could have easily finished the week 2-2. Who knows? If one broken end-of-game play had not resulted in Roy Hibbert going for the win from behind the arc and another had not ended with Solomon Hill in-bounding the ball directly to an opponent, perhaps the Pacers would have found themselves higher than No. 29 in SI.com's Power Rankings.
Though demoting the Pacers to No. 28 (down from No. 24 last week), NBA.com's John Schumann mostly attributes the team's free fall, once again, to injuries. He pats Donald Sloan and Solomon Hill on the back for their big games, but also points out a sad truth: The Pacers would be winless if not for the Sixers (Note: rankings were released prior to Indiana's victory over the Utah Jazz.)
Dropping the Pacers from No.23 down to No. 27, ESPN's Marc Stein commentates with regard to Indiana's injury-riddled obsolescence, "I literally hadn't heard a word about Indy's trip to Miami this week until a Monday morning e-mail...and we actually spent Sunday night in the Heat's company. Then again: Is it really Pacers at Heat with no Paul George, no Lance, and no LeBron?"
Considering that Bankers Life Fieldhouse could basically double as an infirmary, Matt Moore's commentary on Indiana's rank at No. 27 consists of him urging the team to keep their heads up, "Awwww, great job champ. (awkwardly ruffles the Pacers' hair while team sits in hospital.)"
When categorizing the good, the bad, and the ugly of today's NBA, the Pacers - languishing in the bottom five of the power rankings - belong among the latter.
Not because they are under-achieving, but because they are simply victims of bad luck. And for that reason, it is difficult not to evaluate the once surefire contenders with a sympathetic eye. Given that the number of players seated in suits can almost outnumber those in uniform and that their starting point guard played fewer than 400 minutes last season, it now seems fitting to echo the comments of an unknown Heat fan each time this undermanned Pacers team, giving it their all, comes up short: