Roy Hibbert, the Pacers' All-Star center,
was benched for the second half by coach Frank Vogel
, who said Hibbert looked "worn down." This did not, however, prevent Vogel from using his other starters in the fourth quarter of a game long since lost.
For weeks, the Indianapolis Star has focused on two local issues:
The strange arrest of Colts owner Jim Irsay
the bizarre collapse of the Pacers
. Every time the Pacers appear to have hit bottom, they manage to reach a new new low. Hibbert has suggested that the Pacers have some "selfish dudes." (The consensus is that Lance Stephenson is the dude in question.) The All-Star forward Paul George looks nothing like an All-Star, and it's suggested
that various off-the-court issues
have been the reason.
The Hawks, who've won three of four since losing six in a row, have steadied with the return of Kyle Korver. They're not a great team by any measure, but they'd be a difficult matchup for Indiana. (Lest we forget, the Hawks took the Pacers to six games in Round 1 last season.) Without Al Horford, there's no post presence, but against Indiana that's not necessarily a bad thing. With the 3-point-shooting Pero Antic the nominal center, the Hawks can spread the floor and make Hibbert chase somebody, and he's too slow -- and apparently too tired -- to do that.
The Hawks aren't very good defensively, but the Pacers' offense has turned rancid. They've broken 100 points only once in the past 12 games, and the once -- a 101-point windfall -- was against Detroit, which quit trying before New Year's. On Sunday they managed 23 points, a franchise low, in the first half. (Had the Hawks not scored a point in the second quarter, they'd still have led by 10 at halftime.)
Are the Pacers capable of passing Miami for the No. 1 seed? On paper, yes. Two of their four remaining games are against Milwaukee and Orlando, the league's worst and third-worst teams. Of the Heat's six games, five will be against playoff-caliber opposition. And the Pacers will win any tiebreaker, which means they need only gain one game over the final 10 days.
The Pacers and Heat will meet Friday night in Miami. The Heat will play the Hawks at Philips Arena the next night. Those two games could well settle the issue of the Hawks' Round 1 opponent -- and their chances of reaching Round 2. They'd have a real shot against reeling Indiana. They wouldn't have much of one against LeBron.