"We just have to weather the storm," said head coach Frank Vogel following his team's sixth consecutive loss. "That's all it's about. We have to weather the storm."
And what a storm, or maybe even a monsoon, it has been. If the absurd amount of injuries is to be metaphorically compared to the gathering of storm clouds, then autumn is most definitely the rainiest of all seasons for the Indiana Pacers.
With 56 seconds left to play in the first quarter of Saturday night's contest against the Washington Wizards, the Pacers suffered yet another casualty. Attempting to set a screen, Roy Hibbert inadvertently banged knees with Solomon Hill. Instantaneously, the final starter standing was seen wincing as he gingerly walked to the bench and eventually was led to the locker-room for further evaluation. Initially listed as "questionable to return," the team later ruled out the 7-foot center for the game prior to the third quarter.
And then there were nine.
Had Indiana not applied for the hardship exception, they would only have eight - presumably healthy - bodies. As things currently stand, the suits are now capable of outnumbering those in uniform seated on the bench.
"Everybody's different, but it's going to be a while," said Vogel regarding the availability of the team's ill and injured. He then went on to provide a generalized timetable for when he estimated each player would be ready to return:
- David West :"probably toward the end of next week" (sprained right ankle)
- C.J. Watson: "same...maybe a week beyond that" (sore right foot)
- George Hill: "into December" (left knee contusion)
- Roy Hibbert: wait-and-see "tomorrow and Monday, hopefully that's not long-term" (bruised left knee)
- Rodney Stuckey: "evaluated early next week, but probably won't be available Monday (sore foot)
- C.J. Miles: "evaluations tomorrow, further testing (migraine)
As Vogel ran down the obviously lengthy list of various maladies and prognoses completely from memory, even he had to briefly pause somewhere between Hibbert and Stuckey to ask of the assembled media, "Who am I forgetting?"
With no new update to provide, Paul George's name is now merely an addendum to the Pacers' daily injury report. Missing their top seven players, Indiana has been forced to seek help from some of the unlikeliest of heroes. Seven games into the 2013-14 season, Chris Copeland, Solomon Hill, and Donald Sloan had played only approximately 111 combined minutes and collected ten "DNP" notations. Now, counting their most recent game against Washington, the trio has already amassed 695 minutes of game action.
To their credit, they have made the most out of the additional time. Chris Copeland, though his shot selection can at times be likened to eating filet mignon off a garbage can lid, is currently the Pacers' leading scorer, contributing 16.7 points per contest. Once tasked with playing the role of C.J. Watson's understudy, Donald Sloan put on a show at the Verizon Center, scoring a career high 31 points on 47.6% shooting. On Saturday night, second-year wing Solomon Hill got in on the action scoring a career high 28 points, more than half of his total scoring output as a rookie.
But the small victories and "good job, good effort" worthy performances have not come without added wear and tear. Per NBA.com's Player Tracking data, Donald Sloan leads the entire league in time of possession at 9.4 minutes and ranks third in terms of touches per game with 102, behind only Chris Paul (106) and Reggie Jackson (104). Given these numbers and the fact that he has transformed seemingly overnight from back-up to the back-up into the team's starting and lone point guard, it is no wonder that the Indy Star's Candace Buckner tweeted during the game, "Donald Sloan was slightly wincing and shaking his hand while bringing the ball up. Something to watch."
"We're asking too much of guys that aren't use to carrying this load." said Frank Vogel after falling to 1-6 on the season.
Soon to be playing their seventh game in ten nights, there is minimal time for players to adjust to their expanded roles let alone build chemistry with one another as the playing rotation continues to both change and thin.
"We're very high on him," said Vogel after playing rookie Shayne Whittington for the first time this season. "[We] think he has a bright future as a Pacer. We're healthiest at the big position, so he's not getting a lot of opportunity right now, but I feel good about what he brings to the table."
Perhaps no longer the "healthiest" position depending upon Roy's status, Whittington may soon be the next Pacer called upon to fulfill the team's steep tradition of "next man up." Though he chipped in two points, three rebounds, and two assists in approximately eight minutes of playing time, backing-up the team's 7-foot league leader in blocks per game will be no small feat even with the benefit of fresh legs. Averaging 12.6 points and 8.3 rebounds while allowing just 32.1% of field goals at the rim, Roy's absence was felt against Washington (as the Wizards finished the night with 48 points in the paint) and, if day-to-day becomes week-to-week as has been the recent trend, his presence will most assuredly be missed moving forward.
Battening down the hatches and boarding up the windows, Indiana has no choice but to simply wait for the unfathomable storm of injuries to pass.
"We're a team full of fighters," said Chris Copeland describing his team's refusal to back down from a challenge. "We're not going to quit."
Ranking 29th in the league in turnovers and poised to be without their entire starting line-up from the 2013-14 season, the Pacers still refuse to see anything but the silver lining of the dark clouds that continue to hover overhead.
"We don't have any doubt in our minds that we can win games," said Solomon Hill after his career night failed to help his team avoid a six game losing streak. "We have to just keep chipping away..."