Wishing, Wanting, and Hopefully Having

            With one of Indiana’s teams down 1-0 in a NBA playoff series, another team with its owner in rehab, and its own college failing to make any post-season run, there is a lot out there for sports fans to desire. Since this may be my last post in a while, I would like to share my thoughts on what would lead Indiana back to the top of sport prominence.

As many readers out there know, the Indiana Pacers, number one seed in the Eastern Conference, dropped their first playoff game to the eight seed Atlanta Hawks. Do not take this article as giving up on a team with talent from top to bottom, but there are problems that have to be addressed. Unless feelings between teammates are significantly changed, moves need to be made and new faces need to be brought in.

The move that needs to be made is allowing Evan Turner to make his way out and secure the future of Lance Stephenson. Despite the fact that Turner has had some worth playing big minutes in Indiana, the on-court chemistry between him and other bench-contributors has not been there; which I believe to be a large part of the team’s struggles. Lance-Stephenson-280x300

The same cannot be said for Stephenson who thrives with second-team players, and has his most value distributing and driving the ball against lesser opponents. However, due to his significant drop-off in production, I would like Lance to realize that Indiana is the place where he will win his championships and take less than a max contract (which will most likely be offered from another, worse franchise).

Since I have already voiced my thoughts about Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay in a previous article, I think it would be better to leave it brief and only discuss players that step foot on the gridiron. The section of the team that I would like to analyze is not always viewed as the most important, but everyone knows that it can change the momentum of the game: Special Teams.

Proven by numerous speedsters- like DeSean Jackson or Devin Hester- successful punt and kick returning gives something for a team to rally around and triumph, and the Colts have lacked this kind of playmaker for as long as this writer has been watching. With free agency in the rearview mirror and most worthwhile players gone, finding a PR/KR specialist could be a steal, and that is exactly what Joshua Cribbs is.

Joshua Cribbs, Bryant McFaddenDespite his lack of production on offense, Cribbs has proven his worth on special teams over and over again. Cribbs has the lateral quickness to make tacklers miss and the speed to distance himself from the rest of his pursuers. Bolstering double-digit touchdowns on special teams, if Joshua Cribbs still has anything left in the tank and the smarts to keep his head down, he could make big contributions to a team that usually plays in the post-season.

The last team I want to talk about is the Indiana University Men’s Basketball team, because I think that it is time for Tom Crean to make his exit from Bloomington. As a Hoosier fan, I respect Crean for bringing the team out of the depths that they found themselves in after the Kelvin Sampson scandal, but he has served his purpose to the university. With his best player, Noah Vonleh, entering the draft and a ton of others transferring to different universities, now is the time to open a new chapter at Indiana. This new chapter is named Mike Woodson.

Fresh from being a scapegoat with the New York Knicks, an Indiana alumnus is exactly what the team needs. Not only does Woodson have ties to IU and the know how to get his players to work hard- shown by the increased effectiveness of his former superstar Carmelo Anthony- but there is nothing more appealing to a high school recruit than NBA experience. Mike Woodson has shown that he can be successful on the professional level, so I am sure that he would thrive in Bloomington.

The Pacers’ Plummet

AP Photo

AP Photo

At the start of the season, the Indiana Pacers were the hottest team in the NBA, bolstering the league’s best record and its’ next emerging superstar, Paul George; not to mention to development of Lance Stephenson into a perennial triple-double machine.

However, the season progressed and reality caught up the Pacers. The trade for Evan Turner didn’t seem to be panning out like it was supposed to, revived former All-Star Andrew Bynum once again was out due to knee problems, and the team lost its top spot in the East. The Pacers have lost 10 of their last 21 games, at a time when the playoffs seem to be close enough to touch.

In this slide, the entire roster has not nearly played to the bar they set for themselves when they owned the top spot in the Eastern Conference; a position that was taken by the Miami Heat, a team that the Pacers just beat and will be playing again on April 11th. In recent games, the bench has had its production crippled by the injury of C.J. Watson, the drop-off of Luis Scola, and the lack of production from Evan Turner. However, the major problems seem to be with the starters.

Since before the All-Star Break, the starting five did not seem to be clicking like they had been, and the situation reached a peak after Friday’s loss to the Washington Wizards. While answering questions after the game, Center Roy Hibbert had some harsh words about his teammates: “Some selfish dudes in here…I’m really trying hard not to spaz out right now, but I don’t know. We’ve been talking about it for a month.” (For Full Quote)

AP Photo

AP Photo

One can only guess that Hibbert’s comments are referring to Paul George and Lance Stephenson, who seem to be handling the ball most often when the team is on offense. And it is true, during their recent rough patch, attempts by George and Stephenson have stayed significantly higher than Hibbert’s. Not to mention the numerous rebounds that Stephenson has stolen from the center, which has to be extremely obnoxious coming from a teammate.

To this writer, it all comes down to winning basketball games. When a team can put a check in the win column, chemistry problems seem to fade away. Every athlete is a competitor down to their core, and losing exacerbates negative feelings that would normally not be strong enough to voice to the media. If George can rise back to his MVP status and Stephenson can flirt with a triple-double every night, I feel like Hibbert would not have the urge to make such a comment.

Most NBA analysts are quick to hop off the Pacer’s band wagon, but I will always keep some faith in a team that can beat the Heat. Lebron James refuses to lose, especially when it comes to the Pacers, so the win proves that there is still some drive in the roster. During their third match-up, both teams admitted to the impact of the game to their momentum, both experiencing their own version of a skid; and the Pacers pulled out a win, temporarily holding off the Heat from the coveted one-seed.

What I learned from that game is that the Pacers do have the ability to pull it all together and win, even against talent like Miami. But, if the Pacers do continue to play like they are, who knows if the Pacers will even get to face the Heat come playoff time. Getting crushed by double digits on a consistent basis does not bode well for a team that was expected to fly through a weak East and beat Miami to get over that hump.