The Indiana Pacers have managed to stay afloat in the Eastern Conference despite a rash of injuries further readjusting their already dented expectations. But with David West and C.J. Watson's return to action last night, the Pacers may finally start finding themselves a team that can begin to settle in for the long road of the NBA season. Even though the return of Indiana's key players from last season, the Pacers will still be without the one player capable of truly making a difference on this team; Paul George.
While George has made progress on his injury recovery, it's not expected he'll play at any point this season and as the Pacers get set to face LeBron James, their single hurdle of the past three seasons, the absence of George is not lost on James, in a piece by ESPN's Dave McMenamin. In the story, James opens up about George's injury as James and his new look Cleveland Cavaliers will host the Pacers.
On the injury, James was shaken:
"I got the news right on my phone as soon as I landed," James said after practice Friday. "It was pretty bad."
"It made me sick to my stomach," he recalled. "Knowing how great of a player he is, knowing what type of guy that he is, for something like that to happen in the summertime, it hit home for us a lot. It made a lot of us uneasy and we all, as a brotherhood in this league, we all was for him and wishing for him to come back 100 percent."
James didn't blame USA Basketball for the injury, but rather the possibility that it can happen at any time, which while true, does offer little consolation in a year that could've given Indiana their opportunity to finally climb the hump with the Cavaliers struggling to find growth in a 7-7 start. In a perfect world, tonight would've been a great opportunity for the Pacers to make an early season statement against the Cavs, the same statement the Toronto Raptors made a week ago against Cleveland.
After the injury, James posted a montage on his Instagram account, saying about it:
<blockquote class="instagram-media" data-instgrm-captioned data-instgrm-version="4" style=" background:#FFF; border:0; border-radius:3px; box-shadow:0 0 1px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.5),0 1px 10px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.15); margin: 1px; max-width:658px; padding:0; width:99.375%; width:-webkit-calc(100% - 2px); width:calc(100% - 2px);"><div style="padding:8px;"> <div style=" background:#F8F8F8; line-height:0; margin-top:40px; padding:50% 0; text-align:center; width:100%;"> <div style=" background:url(data:image/png;base64,iVBORw0KGgoAAAANSUhEUgAAACwAAAAsCAMAAAApWqozAAAAGFBMVEUiIiI9PT0eHh4gIB4hIBkcHBwcHBwcHBydr+JQAAAACHRSTlMABA4YHyQsM5jtaMwAAADfSURBVDjL7ZVBEgMhCAQBAf//42xcNbpAqakcM0ftUmFAAIBE81IqBJdS3lS6zs3bIpB9WED3YYXFPmHRfT8sgyrCP1x8uEUxLMzNWElFOYCV6mHWWwMzdPEKHlhLw7NWJqkHc4uIZphavDzA2JPzUDsBZziNae2S6owH8xPmX8G7zzgKEOPUoYHvGz1TBCxMkd3kwNVbU0gKHkx+iZILf77IofhrY1nYFnB/lQPb79drWOyJVa/DAvg9B/rLB4cC+Nqgdz/TvBbBnr6GBReqn/nRmDgaQEej7WhonozjF+Y2I/fZou/qAAAAAElFTkSuQmCC); display:block; height:44px; margin:0 auto -44px; position:relative; top:-22px; width:44px;"></div></div> <p style=" margin:8px 0 0 0; padding:0 4px;"> <a href="https://instagram.com/p/rLlEjOiTPI/" style=" color:#000; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; font-style:normal; font-weight:normal; line-height:17px; text-decoration:none; word-wrap:break-word;" target="_top">Hurt my stomach the moment I heard the news! I didn't want to believe it. Man I need u out there bro! Get well and have a speedy recovery PG24! #DamnIt #YoungKing #StriveForGreatness</a></p> <p style=" color:#c9c8cd; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; line-height:17px; margin-bottom:0; margin-top:8px; overflow:hidden; padding:8px 0 7px; text-align:center; text-overflow:ellipsis; white-space:nowrap;">A photo posted by LeBron James (@kingjames) on <time style=" font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; line-height:17px;" datetime="2014-08-02T03:32:33+00:00">Aug 8, 2014 at 8:32pm PDT</time></p></div></blockquote>
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"I sent out that Instgram post when Paul George got hurt, saying, you know, I need him back on the court," James said. "I need it for our competitive games. I’m going to miss that. Paul George is one guy when he’s out on the floor you got to account for because he’s really good."
James has long shown his respect for the teams and players that have forced him to another level. Battling with, and seeing the evolution of George over the past three postseasons first hand has put George in that conversation when talking about his relationship:
"I think our relationship is great," James said of George. "Ever since he was in high school and throughout college, I’ve always kind of kept a tab on him and then when he came into the league, him just waiting for his opportunity. When he first came in, obviously Danny Granger was their franchise player and because of injury allowed him to come in and make a name for himself and he just took it full storm.
"First of all, us competing against each other the last few years throughout the second round and the Eastern Conference finals and things of that nature definitely has helped it. So it’s mutual respect but I’ve always respected just him as a person."
Indiana can still make a statement tonight, but it won't be the same kind of statement without George. Fans of the Pacers know it, but James himself knows it as well. In a star driven game such as the NBA, the Cavs are the kind of team where Indiana will have trouble overcoming the talent difference without George's talents and abilities against James.
That doesn't discount the work Indiana has put in in the first month of the regular season, to sit in 8th place in the Eastern Conference, just one game behind James's Cavaliers despite playing without all five starters from last season. While it won't be the same kind of statement if Indiana wins tonight, it will be a big enough statement for the players, one that may force James to think George-less Pacers in the same way he thinks of the Rose-less Bulls; a nightmare matchup that won't roll over to the king.