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Indiana Pacers
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Indiana Pacers
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Leave it to the Indiana Pacers to provide a valuable lesson in the pursuit of pacing oneself in the 21st Century. Just as the team that was once operating on a historic plane fizzled out come All-Star break, so too can our concept of a successful team in the modern era crash on its head. Obsessed with instant results, we unfairly assumed that Indy was ready to slay giants when in reality they couldn’t even get past their own egos. Now, pointing out a kink in their armor has become a meme in its own right, whether or not there’s any evidence to substantiate it. But XN Sports believes we’ve been unfair with a team still going through growing pains. Because they’ve been exactly only that: growing pains.

For months now, navigating through anything even slightly dealing with the Pacers organization has felt like overcoming an overdose of daytime TV drama. Is Vogel going to be hung out to dry?  Is it possible Evan Turner is the second coming of Ron Artest? Could the Andrew Bynum curse actually be a thing? But, actually paying attention to the details of the storyline reveals something far simpler (and, to some, something far more boring).

Last year, the Indiana Pacers were postseason overachievers. Not only did many people not see them getting past the New York Knicks, folks assumed that a Derrick Rose-accessorized Bulls would steamroll them once more in the playoffs, and, once they actually were able to reach the Eastern Conference Finals, that the Miami Heat would treat them like a zoo lion does its scratching post. Then, the 49 and 32 Pacers took the mighty Heat to seven games, and the basketball consortium thought they were what the Bulls could never be: Heat dethroners. They certainly seemed like it this year, when they were posting historically impressive defensive numbers and on the road to 70 wins. You know the rest.

People have charted Roy Hibbert‘s regression. Paul George‘s social faux pas and how they relate to his painful downfall. Lance Stephenson‘s devolution. Danny Granger‘s ousting. George Hill‘s on-again, off-again accomplishments. While busy piling up blame on the Indy team, no one took the courtesy to wonder if perhaps this still young Indiana team is exactly where it should be.

As Ed Kupfer’s tweet shows, sure, they’ve had a walk through the park for a schedule this season.

And, as this other one shows, their offensive efficiency looks like a mountain range getting swallowed up by rising sea levels.

But, as this one illustrates, they’re far from a finished product, as Larry Bird‘s mid-season gamble proved.

This is still a team with a pony in the race, a complementary cast (if only sometimes just on paper), some future flexibility, and are still on an upward incline.

Not many teams got the eight percent rate of return they did on wins when comparing last season to this one. And, if you knew any better, you might just see that they’re not going through a cultural upheaval as much as a natural one. One that every team has to undergo on their quest for what we thought the Pacers already had.

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