Either the Indiana Pacers are extremely high on their bench—or incredibly low on the Milwaukee Bucks' starters—or this team is really dropping the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed down its priority list.
According to Scott Agness of Pacers.com, coach Frank Vogel will hold his entire starting lineup out of Wednesday's game in Milwaukee. Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Vogel sought league approval before making the decision.
The Pacers had been openly pursuing the East's top spot and backing up those words with actions.
But after two-plus months of treading water (Indiana is 18-16 since Jan. 30), those plans have been shelved—if not outright abandoned. The Miami Heat's 88-87 loss to the Brooklyn Nets Tuesday brought the Pacers within a half-game of the conference lead, leaving Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press dumbfounded by this decision:
The Pacers aren't necessarily waving the white flag, but their starting lineup for Wednesday's game, via Candace Buckner of The Indianapolis Star, seems to suggest otherwise:
Is it possible that Indy's reserves are better than the starters of a Milwaukee team that has posted a league-worst 14-63 record? Sure it is. Maybe that's why Larry Drew doesn't mind the move.
Would a loss on Wednesday seal Indy's fate? Absolutely not. Not with the Heat, on the second night of a back-to-back, heading out for a road clash with a Memphis Grizzlies team desperately fighting for their playoff lives.
But this does seem to place a higher premium on Indiana's Friday night visit to South Beach:
This isn't an entirely shocking development, even if the timing seems a bit puzzling.
Vogel has made it clear he's more concerned with his team's performance than playoff position, and in a best-case scenario, perhaps sitting his starters will provide the jolt this team needs to right the ship.
"We’re not playing well as a basketball team right now and the starters aren’t playing well," Vogel said, via Agness. "Our bench is not playing well. We want to try to get the starters on track by getting their legs back under them and getting them healed up."
Staggering his lineups between a mix of starters and reserves isn't an option, Vogel said.
"If you sit one or two guys for the game, nobody ever finds a rhythm."
Whatever rhythm the Pacers had to start their season has clearly been missing in action of late. They're tied for seventh in defensive efficiency since Mar. 1 (102.5) and 29th at the opposite end (97.5).
The Bucks have a way of curing opponents' ills. Wednesday night, we'll see if that generosity extends to a visitor's second team.
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