The Indiana Pacers: Early Signs that Space Jam 2 Is Alive & Well
Midway through the 2013-2014 NBA regular season, the Indiana Pacers were kind of a big deal. And for all the right reasons.
Indiana was 33-7, and seemingly destined for the number one seed in the East. Last year, the Pacers lost in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Miami Heat, who used their playoff experience and home court advantage in Game 7 to squeak out a win against their young and inexperienced rivals. Based on last year’s success, talking heads anointed the maturing Pacers the team that could take down the mighty Heat, and it wasn’t talked about in David v. Goliath terms – experts expected them to do it. The thinking went that the Pacers, with the better record and best home record in the league, would have home court advantage in the playoffs and, most importantly, an All-Star big man in Roy Hibbert to torch the small-ball Heat.
And then, out of nowhere, things fell apart. Slowly, at first. They lost three times in five games, once to Denver and twice to Phoenix. Not alarming losses by themselves – teams often go through slumps mid-season – but one of the losses to Phoenix was a 24-point thrashing. The Pacers shook it off and reeled off four impressive wins, as if to convince themselves they were alright. Then, in early March, they lost four games in a row to playoff teams. Something was wrong – their chemistry? injuries? something in the locker room? At 50-17 entering Madison Square Garden on March 19, the Pacers looked like a shell of their former selves. The Knicks, of all teams, made them crack. Indiana finished the season losing eight of 14 games.
Now, the Pacers are tied 3-3 heading into Game 7 – not against the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, as was foretold in NBA analyst lore – against the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the playoffs. Saturday night, all of Indiana’s promise could come crashing back down to Earth. Saturday night, in an unexpected turn of events, Atlanta’s David could beat Indiana’s Goliath. The Pacers will have to hope that home court will provide some kind of boost. But even if the Pacers survive the pesky Hawks, what hope do they have moving forward? Roy Hibbert, their 7’2″ X-Factor, has been no factor for large portions of the series. Like, literally disappeared – he’s been benched for inconsistent play. A big reason the Pacers had the second ranked defense during the regular season, Hibbert is now a big reason the Pacers are losing the rebounding battle. Oh, and the last time he scored, there was five minutes left in Game 4. To borrow a Disney lyric, with one small adjustment, Hibbert’s gone from hero to zero, just like that.
If Hibbert and the rest of the Pacers don’t get their act together, the consequences could be larger than just an embarrassing early round playoff exit. Head Coach Frank Vogel would very likely be fired, told to leave because he couldn’t corral all that talent into a winning team. GM Larry Byrd could decide that the team’s lack of chemistry and reported locker room squabbles aren’t fixable, meaning certain players could also be shown the exit. The 2013 Pacers, seemingly ready to dominate the league in 2014, could be dispersed by 2015.
It seems pretty clear what’s happened to Hibbert. To properly diagnose him though, I need to borrow from Disney again. Remember Space Jam? Of course you do. Remember how the MonStars stole all the NBA players’ talent? Duh, classic scene in the movie. Well, I think that’s what happened to Hibbert. It sucks for Indiana, sure, but hey, that must mean Space Jam 2 is on the way, right?
Okay, I get that my theory’s a little far-fetched. But how else do you explain an All-Star during the regular season who averages four points a game in the playoffs? I can’t. Jordan, you better get your Jordans on.