Pacers Trying to Keep Good Spirits During Bad Times

David West admits it's difficult for him. In fact, the word he chooses to describe the feeling of what he's going through now can't be published.

He's 34 years old, and when he re-upped with the Pacers two summers ago he thought he was giving himself three more shots at a championship. Now, in the second year of that deal, he finds himself with an injury-shredded team that's riding an eight-game losing streak and, yes, it's a struggle sometimes to maintain the warrior mentality for which he's known.

“A little bit,” he said. “I try not to think about it too much. Just try to come in and prepare.”

West was speaking after the Pacers' latest defeat, a 95-85 loss to Portland at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Saturday. He sounded different than he usually does in postgame conversations. Rather than speaking deliberately and looking his questioners in the eye, he talked slowly, searching for the right words, and sometimes stared off to the side.

He didn't sound apathetic. Nor did he sound angry. If anything, he's angry with himself.

“That's probably the one thing that ticks me off more than anything,” he said. “I missed the first 15 games (with a sprained ankle) and that put me behind. Now I'm playing catchup with not a whole lot of practice. That's sort of where my mind has been, kicking myself for missing all those games in the beginning.”

West was OK against the Blazers, with 12 points, four rebounds, six assists and no turnovers in his 33 minutes. But OK isn't likely to bring many victories with Paul George and George Hill out with injuries and other less-injured players sliding in and out of the lineup. The only Pacers who were better than OK in this game were C.J. Watson, who had 23 points on 8-of-11 shooting, and Luis Scola, who had 10 points, five rebounds and three steals off the bench. Everyone else was pretty much average. Rodney Stuckey had 14 rebounds, but hit just 6-of-19 shots on his way to 14 points.

All issues are compounded by the schedule, which has sent the Pacers up against teams that are either solidly in the playoff chase or legitimate contenders for a spot throughout their losing streak. The Lakers, of all teams, bring the Pacers' best hope for a victory in two weeks on Monday.

Hill is expected back sometime this month, and there's still a glimmer of hope for George to return before the season is complete. West doesn't allow himself to dream of that, however. He “damn near lost it” when he saw George dunk the ball when the Pacers were in Portland last week, but he's like everyone else in the Pacers' organization: he doesn't want George taking any chances.

“That's unfair to him,” West said. “He's got his whole career ahead of him. Being a fan of his, I want him to be healthy. I just want the best for him in the looooooong run.”

In the short run, the Pacers simply have to figure it out and fight through it – “it” being all the things that are keeping them from winning. Their chemistry isn't anything like it was last season or during the latter half of the previous season, which is to be expected given all the injury-induced changes to the starting lineup and playing rotation. Their confidence, naturally, isn't the best, because you can't fake that in an eight-game losing streak. But their effort has sometimes been lacking, too. After getting off to slow starts in most of their recent losses, they made a major emphasis of starting well against the Blazers. They went out and won the first quarter, 23-22, but were dominated in the second, 36-15. It was the only quarter they lost, but that one collapse was too much overcome.

The puzzling things is that the Pacers seemed to have it going before West returned, winning five of seven games through one stretch. They also beat Orlando in his first game back, and everyone in the locker room – including him – was jazzed about the possibility of further improvement with their veteran leader back on the court.

They haven't won a game since, and they don't know why, exactly.

“If I had the answer, I definitely think we'd win more games,” Solomon Hill said. “I just don't know. I don't know. I don't know if teams adjusted to how we're playing, or if teams aren't looking at us the same way.

“We just have to have the same intensity for the full 48. We make it look good at the end of games, but it's just too late. I don't know what's missing. All I know is we have to be able to play hard one through 15 and bring the same intensity we had when we were winning.”

The players say they are still together, and there are no hints of rupture to outside observers in the locker room. Rodney Stuckey, a veteran of losing streaks, hopes that continues. He experienced a lot of dry spells in Detroit, including one of 13 games and another of 11 games in the 2009-10 season, and learned how to cope with them.

“I got down on myself a lot,” he said. “I used to go home mad, temper problems and stuff like that. You can't do that. It's a long season. Once I realized that, you realize what you have to do better. Having a positive attitude is the key. You can't get down.”

But you have to get back up, too. West believes he can contribute to that, as he gradually builds his timing and comfort with teammates. And if he and his teammates need a jolt of optimism, they need merely to look at the Eastern Conference standings, where they reside just four games back of the eighth spot, and five games back of the sixth.

“As crazy as it is, we're still only a few games out,” West said. “It's well within reason. We've just got to figure out the right way to play and get it done.”

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