For the better part of the last six seasons the Indiana Pacers have been a predictable commodity in the Eastern Conference.
Under Frank Vogel and Nate McMillan, the Pacers were a difficult opponent, usually on the back of an above average defence. Despite their reliability during the regular season, they have failed to make much of a dent in the playoffs.
Until a 2020-21 season that saw Indiana bounced in the Play-In Tournament, the Pacers had been eliminated in the first round in five straight seasons. In four of those five years they topped 45 wins, in two of those they fell just a couple of games short of the 50-win mark.
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Another aspect of the Pacers that has become frustratingly consistent is injuries to key players, with each season seemingly marred by the loss of critical players for extended periods.
Unfortunately for Pacers fans, the run of bad luck extends all the way back to the 2012-13 season, when franchise star Danny Granger's career was derailed by knee injuries in his prime. Despite the loss, Indiana would withstand the blow behind the rise of Paul George, with All-Star appearances in 2013 and 2014 lifting the franchise to the Eastern Conference Finals in back-to-back seasons.
Disaster soon followed, when George suffered a horrific leg break in August 2014 during a Team USA scrimmage, keeping him to just six games in a 2015 season that saw the Pacers fall out of the playoff mix.
When George requested a trade, the Pacers seemingly struck gold acquiring Victor Oladipo, with the electric guard earning consecutive All-Star selections with the Pacers before rupturing his quad tendon in January of 2019.
What exactly did the Pacers do to deserve all this?!
In recent times, a stress fracture in T.J. Warren's foot, a torn ACL for Jeremy Lamb and an endless list of injuries to Malcolm Brogdon have been added to the chart among other setbacks. Perhaps the scariest of all was a mass located on Caris LeVert's kidney during a medical after being traded to the team last season.
The best ability is availability?
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On paper, the Pacers are talented, with Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner, Brogdon, Lamb, Warren and LeVert forming the nucleus of a team that should expect to contend for home court in the first round of the postseason. Trouble is, we have no idea if the core of the roster will spend a single minute on the court together this season. After a recent setback, Warren's return to the floor is uncertain, while Lamb still faces an extended period on the sideline as he builds to a return.
Of course, that isn't the only injury blow, with reserve guard Edmond Sumner suffering a torn Achilles in recent days that will likely keep him sidelined for the entirety of the season. Sumner averaged 16.2 minutes across 53 appearances last season, including 24 starts.
As the Eastern Conference's depth continues to build, the Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets, New York Knicks are just a few of the franchises looking to displace the Pacers' hopes of returning to the postseason. Starting the season undermanned, the Pacers will start their campaign in an uphill battle to stay afloat.
There's no doubt head coach Rick Carlisle is faced with a significant challenge in season 2021-22, but how about some good luck for the Pacers?
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