Pacers kick off 'cupcake' final stretch with win over 76ers

Pacers kick off 'cupcake' final stretch with win over 76ers


Pacers kick off 'cupcake' final stretch with win over 76ers

The Indiana Pacers have been talking all season. Wait till PG gets his legs back and meshes with Monta. Wait till Myles Turner gets some games under his belt. Wait till CJ Miles and Rodney Stuckey to return from injuries. Wait till Ty Lawson returns from injury. The team will be “scary” then.

All these expectations, but the team remains what it is — good enough to beat any team on any given night, but not good enough to sneak into the top 4 seeds or beat any of the top 4 seeds in a 7-game series.

Could that finally change as the Pacers finally enter the stretch run amid a very favorable schedule? A lot has been made about how the team ends its regular season schedule with 11 home games to just 5 road games, and how, with the East being as tightly bunched up as it is, the Pacers might be able to gain some momentum heading into the playoffs.

Four games into this stretch and the results have not been particularly encouraging. As expected, they overcame the hapless Philadelphia 76ers in an ugly game tonight, 91-75, but dropped the two previous games to the Raptors and Thunder. Those were games for the Pacers to show they’ve turned the corner, but instead they only reinforced what we fear — that this team simply isn’t good enough yet.

The Pacers now stand at 37-33, holding on to the 7th spot in the East. They remain 4 games out of the 3rd seed, but are now 3 games behind 6th place Charlotte, who stunned the Spurs tonight in a massive come-from-behind victory.

Looking ahead, however, there are definitely opportunities to make a move if the Pacers can just take care of business. Next up, they finish off the home stand against the Pelicans, who have shut down Anthony Davis for the remainder of the season. Then it’s a road game against cellar-dwelling Brooklyn Nets, followed by another home stand against messed up Houston, injured Chicago and beatable Orlando. Then it’s another road game, but against the 76ers again, followed by another road game against the Knicks on the second night of a back-to-back. Then it’s home against the Cavs, on the road against Toronto, then two home games against the Nets and Knicks, and a finale on the road against the Bucks.

The optimist inside me says the Pacers can win all these games, perhaps with the exception of the ones against the Cavs and Raptors. Even so, that would give them a 10-2 record to finish the season and a 47-35 record overall. More realistically, and knowing how inconsistent this team is, Pacers fans should be happy with 8-4 and a 45-37 finish, though the pessimist in me says things could be worse.

There aren’t any more excuses to rely on. Paul George was fantastic against the Thunder, putting up 45 points (and becoming the only player to have two 45+ scoring games in losing efforts in a single season), but he followed that up tonight against the 76ers with 15 points on 4-16 shooting. I know it’s the first season back from a serious injury, but PG has always been wildly inconsistent, perhaps too inconsistent to be considered a superstar. He’s a beast when he is locked in, as he is was against the Thunder, but there are too many other games where he’s forcing things, committing boneheaded turnovers and spending his time whining to the refs.

Monta has been with the Pacers all season and his play has been better than his stats suggest. But he and PG haven’t quick produced the sparks we anticipated.

George Hill is always going to be solid, sometimes a bit more and sometimes a bit less, but it’s probably time to stop hoping that he’ll be more than what he is now.

Myles Turner is going to be great, but he has hit a bit of a rookie wall at the wrong end of the season due to that hand injury that took him out of the lineup for a couple of months.

Jordan Hill, Ian Mahinmi and Lavoy Allen are serviceable, but that’s about it. They’ll give you effort and occasional good games, but it’s too much to count on them to be as dependable on a regular basis.

CJ Miles’ shooting touch remains erratic, Rodney Stuckey hasn’t found the groove he had last season due to injuries, and Solomon Hill is just happy to see some court time. Ty Lawson could be the X factor, but he’s returning from injury himself (6, 2 and 2 in 15 minutes off the bench) and hasn’t had much time to acclimatize himself to the Pacers’ offense).

So on the whole, there is potential, but time is running out for the Pacers to realize it. It’s time to shut up, stop dreaming about how good they can be, and just go out and prove it.

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