It's a real shame the Pacers couldn't have held on in this one against the Brooklyn Nets. After exploiting the Nets defense for the majority of the night, the Pacers stopped executing in the 4th and fell from an 8 point lead to lose 97-86, snapping their season-high 4-game winning streak.
David West backed up his first career triple-double with 27 points on 11-19 shooting, which is great to see considering he had been in a slump before the last two games. Paul George returned from illness but still didn't look 100%. He had 15 points, 12 rebounds and 6 steals but shot only 6-18 and didn't seem to really have his legs under him. George Hill is also still recovering from bronchitis and had 13 points.
The Pacers really could have used Lance Stephenson tonight, but he left the game for good just 6 minutes in after injuring his right foot. The Pacers also could have used Roy Hibbert's offense, if he is capable of ever finding it again. The big fella was again a non-factor on the offensive end, scoring only 6 points, though he did have 7 rebounds and 6 blocks to go with 5 fouls.
It's pretty clear the Pacers need Hibbert to at least have some impact on the offensive end if they would like to challenge the likes to Miami, New York and yes, Brooklyn, in the Eastern Conference. Right now it's no longer a matter of "will Hibbert snap out of his slump?" Slumps don't last this long. I'm afraid this is it. This might be as good as the Pacers' max contract player will ever get.
Watching the Pacers play, it's also obvious that they really need Danny Granger's offense. Right now they've got David West and Paul George as the main on-two punch, with George Hill capable of occasionally stepping up to produce points and big shots. But with Hibbert being practically useless offensively, they could really use Granger's shooting and all-round scoring ability to take some of the pressure off the rest of the team, which continues to be the second worst in the league in terms of putting points on the board.
The bench is still a mess, but Ian Mahinmi and DJ Augustin are showing signs of turning things around, and if Granger's return can shift Lance Stephenson to the second unit, that might help transform them into something decent enough to challenge other teams' second units. A second unit of Augustin, Stephenson, Green, Hansbrough and Mahinmi is not great, but it certainly looks a lot less awful than it does now.
David West said after the game last night that Granger has been looking really good and should be rejoining the team during the next stretch of home games, which starts from Jan. 30 against Detroit and ends of Feb. 22, also against Detroit (with only a single road game against Philly on Feb. 6 in between). From the way he said things I am assuming that Granger is almost there and is currently working on his conditioning, which hopefully means a much shorter window for him to get back into the swing of things.
The key now is for the Pacers to hold the fort through this nightmarish road stretch until Granger gets back. The Pacers only get a day off before another back-to-back on the road against the Bobcats and the Magic. They then have one home game against the Rockets before a 4-game road trip out west against Memphis, Portland, Utah and Denver. If things get really bad, the Pacers could go something like 1-6 during this stretch, though I am more optimistic than that. I think a 3-4 record would be passable, and anything better is a bonus.