Pacers turn 40, and looking fit
The Pacers have won 40 games. Today is Feb. 10. There’s still one more game to be played before the All-Star break.
Veteran fans should stop and reflect on that for a minute. Because veteran fans remember days when 40 wins made for a successful season. The Pacers failed to reach that round-number landmark in 11 of their first 13 NBA seasons, and had another five-year run of sub-40s from 2007-11.
Wanna know real misery? The Pacers won 20 games in the 1982-83 season, then 26 and then 22 and then 26. Could fans today, in a social media world that promotes angst and neurosis by agonizing over every shortcoming, survive such a four-year death march?
It shouldn’t be assumed. Slick Leonard, burdened by impotent ownership, failed to win 40 in his four seasons coaching the team after it joined the NBA. Larry Brown won 39 in his last season coaching the team, when Rik Smits and Derrick McKey missed about half of the season with injuries. Jim O’Brien failed to reach 40 in his three full seasons coaching the team.
So here they are, 40-11. With 31 games still to play. On pace to win 64 or 65 games, a franchise record. Of their remaining games, 14 are at home and 17 are on the road, but 16 are against teams that currently have a losing record and three more are against .500 teams. Surpassing the 61-win season of 2003-04 can happen and should happen.
The most encouraging thing for fans is that this team has plenty of room for improvement. The immaturity that cost it a win in Orlando on Sunday was addressed in a team meeting before Monday’s win over Denver, and can fade with time. Every player on the roster except Rasual Butler, Luis Scola, David West and Danny Granger is in the improvement phase of his career, and should get better simply with the passage of time. Granger should get better the rest of the season, too, if he can reclaim his jump shot. The same goes for coach Frank Vogel, who at 40 years old and having come up the hard way, is far from growing the mold and crust that infects veteran coaches who have seen it all.
This team can be infuriating when it’s blowing 17-point leads late in the third quarter, and it can be annoying when the young guns are throwing behind-the-back passes or tossing up silly shots at the first hint of prosperity within a game. But mostly it’s a green and growing group.
That’s why 40 wins on Feb. 10 is a big deal, but no cause for celebration. Things can be — and have been — so much worse. And they can get better still.