Sports Column

SMITH: Pacers will be fine in long run

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What is happening to the Indiana Pacers?

Just a few short weeks ago, the Pacers were looking like a real contender in the Eastern Conference. They were 30-16, just a few games behind the No. 2-seed in the East, and they were about to get their best player back. We knew there would be an adjustment period with Oladipo back in the fold, but nobody expected THIS. 

The Pacers head into Wednesday night’s difficult matchup with Milwaukee having lost six straight games. The worst part? Five of the six games were at home. Defense, rebounding, and clutch play have been non existent for much of this stretch, and what looked to be such a promising season now has fans wondering if a 1st round exit is once again the fate for this team.

Do I think the Pacers will figure things out? Absolutely.

Do I think they could still win a playoff series? Absolutely.

Could they figure things out but still lose in the 1st round? Absolutely. 

And if that happens again this year, it will hurt.

Teams go through slumps, and it’s part of the game. The problem is — this slump has been so extensive, it is killing Indiana’s chances at a better playoff seed. The Eastern Conference has turned into a top-heavy group, and the Pacers were really hoping to earn a Top-3 seed. What once looked attainable is now a pipe dream. The Pacers have lost eight more total games than the current No. 3-seed Boston Celtics. That’s what happens when you drop seven games in a 2 1/2 week stretch.

Yes, all of this has coincided with Victor Oladipo’s return. Yes, Oladipo has been part of the problem. But he’s not the only problem. And most importantly — this is still better for the team in the long run. 

Oladipo means too much to this franchise and city to sit the season out. As good as the team was playing without him, they would still need a player like him to do any real damage come playoff time. Should he be easing his way back in a little more instead of taking a big role so quickly? Probably. But again, he’s not the only issue surrounding this team right now.

“Adding me to the scenario, I think we’re all trying to re-figure out what our roles are,” Oladipo said. “Because right now, I don’t think we all know. It’s just a process — other teams are at their peak right now and we’re kind of starting over. We’ll figure it out.”

It’s hard for fans to have perspective, but you have to remember — Victor Oladipo missed over a full calendar year of action.  He didn’t get a training camp.  He didn’t get a preseason.  Not only is he trying to get everything back, but he’s also playing with a brand new team compared to the last time he stepped foot on the court. It is impossible to know just how difficult all of this would really be. Oladipo has been looking better in recent games. His explosiveness and quickness is even better than I thought it would be. And as hard as this slump has been to watch, I’m convinced it will all be worth it in the near future when Oladipo finds his groove and the Pacers turn things around. 

There’s no guarantee they’ll figure things out this season — Maybe it’s a year from now when everything fully clicks (and with a few changes). But if I were you, I wouldn’t give up on this team. I definitely wouldn’t give up on Victor Oladlpo. This team needs the All-Star break, and the fans need it as well. Just know this — There’s a ton of talent here. A bright future. And sometimes, a bad slump can be easily forgotten when a team figures it out.

Tyler Smith covers the Indiana Pacers and Indiana Hoosier basketball for Indy Sports Legends. Smith is also the youth pastor at New Hope Christian Church, and the varsity girls’ basketball coach at Crawfordsville High School.

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