No Promises, But Playoffs Worth Believing
January 26, 2011
This wasn't Joe Namath promising a Super Bowl win. This wasn't even Patrick Ewing guaranteeing, well, any of the dozens of wins he guaranteed while with the Knicks.
In fact, it was neither a promise nor a guarantee.
When Jim O'Brien said, "I think we'll make the playoffs," in response to my question Tuesday after practice about what to expect the rest of the season, it was the studied and measured opinion of a coach that believes in his team (talk-show listeners, please resist the temptation to mentally cue Jim Mora).
Some have interpreted his recent shift toward a younger lineup and rotation as a sign the Pacers are more interested in developing their prospects than winning now. Do not misunderstand. O'Brien's job is to win while developing, a challenging balance to maintain.
"I think our team will hit a very nice stride," he said. "We're a half-game out of a playoff spot right now. We're acclimating a guy who's virtually a rookie in Tyler Hansbrough at the power forward spot. D.C. (Darren Collison) is a new point guard and I think he'll hit a tremendous stride. Paul George is coming on in the last five games. I think these guys will find their stride.
"I think being a half-game out of the playoff race at the halfway point is not a bad place to be."
It could be better, to be sure. And it will need to get better soon.
Of the 15 games before the Feb. 24 trading deadline, 10 are against teams with sub-.500 records. The Pacers will identify themselves in that stretch: either the players will take this playoff thing seriously and get down to business, or they will continue to struggle to find their way.
This opportunity is not to be taken lightly, nor the challenge of the schedule they have just traversed. While they have lost 18 of their last 25, just five of those defeats were at the hands of sub-.500 teams.
To have been through two bad months and still be in the thick of the playoff race is remarkable.
"It's a blessing, honestly," said Danny Granger. "As bad as we've played, we're only a half-game out of the playoffs so there's definitely room for us to improve and hopefully we can sneak in there."
The coach believes.
Frankly, so do I. Are any two of the teams the Pacers are currently battling – Philadelphia, Charlotte, Milwaukee and Detroit – better, more deserving or more interested in reaching the postseason than Indiana?
Ultimately, what matters most is what the players themselves believe. And we should get a pretty good idea of that soon enough.