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Previewing 2010: Can the Indiana Pacers Stop Sucking?

Pace MillerCorrespondent IJanuary 1, 2010

OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 30:  Indiana Pacers head coach Jim O'Brien walks the sidelines during their game against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena on November 30, 2009 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Things can't really get much worse for the Indiana Pacers right now. 

Record: 9-22. Losing streak of eight straight. Currenlty sit 13th in the East.  Have only one win against a a team over .500 (Boston).  Injuries galore. 

Can they possibly turn things around in 2010 or should we expect more of the same?

Here are some thoughts.

Winning the first game

The Pacers kick off 2010 at home against the 7-26 Minnesota Timberwolves, one of the few teams in the NBA with a worse record.  It's a must-win game because it's a game the Pacers can actually win!

A win will break that dreadful eight-game losing streak and finally get them to double-digits in the win column.  Most of all, it will help lift their confidence off the basement floor.  Come on, win this one!

Health a big factor

The Pacers have been one of the unluckiest teams in terms of staying healthy this season.  It's not a good sign when your ideal starting five (Hibbert, Murphy, Granger, Dunleavy and Ford) have not stepped on the court in the same game all season.

The Pacers' top three players have been hampered with injuries so far.

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Danny Granger has had a bad heel from opening night, and has been out since Dec. 5 with an unrelated foot injury.  The prognosis was 4-6 weeks, which means he is set to come back either very soon or in a couple of weeks.

Mike Dunleavy Jr. missed the first 13 games of the season coming back from knee rehabilitation and has been playing limited minutes.  He appeared to be rounding into form until the last few games, when he hit the proverbial wall.  It's going to take him a while to get his legs back, but all we should hope for is no re-aggravation of that knee!

Troy Murphy missed six games early on in the season with a back injury which he appeared to have finally recovered from until he injured his ankle a couple of games ago.

The role players have not done much better.  Jeff Foster is still out with back problems.  Tyler Hansbrough is out with an ear infection.  Travis Diener has not seen the floor this season.

If the Pacers can stay away from injuries after Granger returns, I believe they can string a few wins together and gather some momentum.  It will take a few games to build up some chemistry, but surely the chemistry can't get much worse than it is right now!

What happened to the defense?

In the offseason, all the talk was about the revamped defense.  A bunch of defensive-minded players were signed.  They were going to bring a new defensive mindset.  I was sceptical, but hopeful.

Right now, the Pacers are the ninth worst defensive team in the league, giving up an average of 102.7 points per game.  However, they are only the 22nd best offensive team in the league, averaging just 97.1 points per game. 

You can blame some of it on injuries and some of it on the lack of chemistry with the new line up, but it seems like no one remembers the team's so-called main focus was defense.

Having Granger back will help the offense, but the Pacers still need to play some defense to win.  I'm just not sure they have the personnel to do it, but at least they have to try.

Is Jim O'Brien's job safe?

Larry Bird has said that Jim O'Brien's job is safe.  But should it be?

Sophomores: One improving, one horrible

Brandon Rush and Roy Hibbert were (or are) supposed to be the future of the team.  Both secured starting roles before the start of the season. 

So far, Hibbert has shown flashes of brilliance and has definitely improved (with 10.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and 3.5 fouls in just 22.9 minutes per game), but Rush has been downright tragic (7.6 points in 27.6 minutes, shooting 0.384 from the field, 0.340 from 3P range and just 0.484 from the free-throw line).

Both have lost their starting roles as of late, but Hibbert has carved out a role for himself, whereas Rush has fans questioning whether he belongs in the NBDL.  I say send him there to build up some confidence because it's obvious he's not getting it here.

Remainder of season in numbers

The Pacers have played 31 games so far, 15 home and 16 away.  Of their nine wins, six have come at Conseco Fieldhouse.  They are currently on a 24-win pace for the season.

However, the Pacers have a pretty favorable schedule for the remainder of the season.

Out of the 51 remaining games, the Pacers have 26 home games and 25 away games. Of the 26 remaining home games, 17 are against teams that have more losses than wins.

The Pacers have seven games remaining against teams with a worse record than them (and there are only four such teams): New Jersey (2), Minnesota (2) and Philadelphia (3).

As for the rest of the bad teams in the NBA which they could reasonably expect to beat (on a good day), I believe there are no less than 14 opportunities: Washington (2), Detroit (4), New York (2), Charlotte, Milwaukee (2), Chicago (2) and Sacramento.

Prediction?

Even the most pessimistic Pacers fan has to be a little shocked at what has happened so far this season.  It's not just the record, but the way the Pacers have been losing that has appalled everyone.  Long losing streaks.  Poor defense.  Lack of effort.  Being blown out early.  Blowing big leads down the stretch.

Nevertheless, I think there is a glimmer of hope (Am I not the eternal optimist?).  With the favorable schedule, if they can just remain healthy and play hard like they're paid to do, then playoffs are not out of the question. 

I'm not kidding.  They are just 3.5 games out from the eighth and final spot.  While I don't expect them to get there, I hope they can at least make a run.  A few tweaks here and there could make a big difference. A ninth place finish once again is my prediction.

Let's not give up on them just yet.  2010 is a brand new start!

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