The pessimism regarding the Indiana Pacers’ 2014-15 season, and their playoff hopes, has reached a fever pitch. Most, to all analysts, put the Pacers’ chances of making the playoffs this season in the same level of sarcastic optimism that the MLB’s Chicago Cubs are met with every year, and the consensus over/under of wins for the “Blue and Gold” seems to hover around 30.
But that’s really no way to approach a season, is it? Heck, even Cubs fans think they have a chance at 0-0. Sure, the Pacers’ chances of making it to the NBA Finals have disappeared due to Paul George’s injury, but let’s not forget they still play in the Eastern Conference; a conference that features the Philadelphia 76ers; a team built solely for the purposes of collecting lottery draft picks until they have something that resembles a roster.
In that breadth, let’s just consider, for a second, if things actually went right for the Pacers this season. Let’s assume a couple dominoes fall into place, and this rash of injuries that seems to have cursed the Pacers’ season stops.
Why, in this instance, couldn’t the Pacers make the playoffs?
To break this possibility down even further, let’s weed out the haves and have-nots of the Eastern Conference. There’s fifteen teams that make up the conference, and the Orlando Magic, 76ers, Boston Celtics, and Milwaukee Bucks have relatively no chance of making the playoffs. On the flip side, the Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, Washington Wizards, and Toronto Raptors are almost guaranteed locks to make it.
Therefore, since there’s eight teams in the conference’s playoffs, then realistically speaking, seven teams are competing for four spots up for grabs.
Out of these seven teams remaining in the conference: the Brooklyn Nets, Miami Heat, Charlotte Hornets, Atlanta Hawks, Pacers, Detroit Pistons, and New York Knicks, only the Hawks are without major question marks surrounding their season. Still, though, Atlanta has always been a middling team, and though they have made some progress in the last few years, they haven’t made any significant improvements to suggest they won’t be a fifth or sixth seed, again, this year.
But for now, let’s just put the Hawks at five, and assume they carry on their tradition of quality mediocrity.
Now, the Pacers are left to compete with five other teams that all have issues of their own for three spots. And, to harken back to a point made earlier, why, after breaking the conference down, is it so crazy to think the Pacers have a legitimate spot at making the playoffs?
Is this pessimism because of the Brooklyn Nets? Whose team leader is Kevin Garnett, a former All-Star celebrating his twentieth year in the league this season. Who’s to say he’ll remain healthy and put up productive minutes this season? And, if he falls, can an inconsistent Deron Williams carry this team to the playoffs?
Well, then the Pacers must have no shot because of the New York Knicks. A team, that despite rostering All-Star Carmelo Anthony, starts this season with a new coach, a new GM, and a whole new offensive system that they’ve never ran before. Sure, “the triangle” has been successful in the past, but it’s complex, and most analysts agree the Knicks won’t be firing on all cylinders early on in the season while they work out the kinks.
Really, there’s no guarantee that the new system will ever be adopted at all by this team.
OK, then, it must be the Pistons, Hornets, and Heat that strike the fear in the eyes of Pacers naysayers. But, wait, the Pistons are young and inexperienced, the Heat might be older and more susceptible to crumble than the Nets, not to mention also just lost the greatest player in the world to the Cavaliers, and the Hornets have to deal with Lance Stephenson, whose over-inflated ego might just explode after Michael Jordan told him he wants him to compete with the likes of Lebron James.
The point is: Besides the four aforementioned “locks”, there really is no other team in the Eastern Conference destined for anything. Every team’s beat writer for the seven teams mentioned fighting for the last four spots put their team’s chances of making the playoffs not at guaranteed, but at “hopeful”.
Hopeful, just like Pacers fans should be in a couple weeks, after all the little injuries subside; when a gritty David West, an improved George Hill, and a Kareem-trained center named Roy Hibbert, reunite and resume another year of Pacers basketball.