The Indiana Pacers are in trouble. They've lost four of their last five, six of their last ten, nine of their last 15. They have dropped to second in the Eastern Conference, surrendering the lead for home court advantage they had sought so hard for to the Miami Heat. They have cracked 80 points (80!) just once (once!) in their last six games.
But there is a solution, that could get the Pacers back on track, fix their issues, and move them back towards the dominant team they were for the first three months of the season.
OK, not really, but kind of.
See, the Pacers have been going full-bore for six months now. They burned themselves with all engines in the beginning of the season, focused on making sure they could nab a home court advantage vs. Miami so that this time, presumably in the Eastern Conference Finals, Game 7 would be on their home floor. They weren't just dominant, they were historically so. They put together one of the best defensive runs in NBA history before their collapse. Paul George and Roy Hibbert were All-Stars, with Vogel as their coach.
There were signs in early February that they were starting to run out of steam. The problem with the 82-game schedule isn't the physical exhaustion, it's the mental part. It's getting up for game after game against opponent after opponent with the playoffs, the games that matter, months away. The hotels, arenas, shots and rebounds all blend together. At All-Star weekend, I asked Vogel if he were going to rest his starters at all. He emphatically said no.
The team is young enough to not need the physical rest. "David West would strangle me if I tried to sit him," Vogel said. There was no physical reason to rest anyone, they needed to maintain.
But as the Pacers have hit this point with everyone who doubted their non-superstar-built model lobbing criticism at them, the best thing they can do is selectively rest their starters.
That's right. They need to tank a few games.
It's not the physical rest that they need. The players need a mental break. They need to get away from the locker room, from practices and arenas and basketball. They need to get away from each other. The best thing for any situation that has become rote is a prolonged break. In short, the Pacers need to "reboot" their system.
Now, you can argue that the bench, which has been a fantastical trainwreck over the last few weeks, is the real problem and that resting the starters won't help. But watch what happens when the Spurs rest starters. The reserves embrace the opportunity. More minutes on the floor for Evan Turner could be disastrous... it could also help him understand the system on both sides of the ball and find his comfort space. Luis Scola being depended on could bring the old Scola out of him.
Meanwhile, Roy Hibbert can go box or play video games or just read a good book. Paul George can go do whatever it is he does. David West can go mix some new music (did you know he produces his own beats?) or go kill bears in a forest or whatever. But most importantly, they can rest, refresh, and reboot.
The Pacers have the Pistons Wednesday, a game they should win even if they play terribly. Then they have the Raptors, Hawks, and Bucks before the big showdown with Miami. Realistically, they can drop the Raptors game in Toronto and still catch Miami in the game against them, winning home court advantage and putting them back in the driver's seat. The Hawks game can probably be won by the reserves as well as the game vs. the Bucks.
Sometimes even if everyone's healthy, you need to think outside the box. And going into the playoffs in a major slump could be worse than just losing home court. It's time for the Pacers to get inventive. It's time to unplug the box, wait 30 seconds, and start it back up.
There's too much on the line to hope that there's enough fuel left to carry them home when the engine's already starting to sputter.