The video above makes the Pacers' 96-86 defeat at the hands of the 76ers seem closer than it really was. Without Danny Granger (food poisoning) and George Hill (sore back courtesy of Gerald Henderson's body slam), this game was always going to be a challenge, but at the same time it should have been an opportunity for the team to showcase its celebrated depth.
Instead the Pacers played with little passion and once again struggled to find the basket. The 76ers were barely challenged after the first quarter and they are clearly the better team at the moment. Hibbert had some bright patches but they didn't feed him the ball enough.
The road ahead is not going to get any easier. Despite the 6-3 start, the Pacers have really only played 3 "good" teams (Miami, Boston and Philly), going 1-2. From here until the end of the month, the Pacers are going to play: Atlanta, @Toronto, Boston, @Sacramento, @Golden State, @LA Lakers, Orlando, @Chicago, @Boston, @Orlando, New Jersey. With the way they have been playing, how many of these teams can they actually beat?
My guess is they should be able to handle the likes of Toronto, Sacramento, Golden State and New Jersey, but given that the first three are road games, and given that the Pacers tend to struggle against guys like Bargnani (Toronto), Evans (Sacramento) and Ellis (Golden State), nothing is for certain. Boston will be hungry for revenge (meaning they should take at least one of the two games) and the Bulls and Lakers are likely going to be too good. That leaves the two games against the Magic, and to be honest I'm not too confident about either one.
Unless something suddenly clicks with this team, my guess is that by the end of January, the Pacers should be roughly around 10-10, and if they are lucky, 12-8. As long as they remain above 0.500 I won't be too concerned, given the fact that it's one of the brutalist stretches of the season and the fact that people often forget that this was a 37-45 team last season. Throw in Granger's poor shooting, David West's recouperation, George Hill taking his time to find his feet, injuries to Foster and Pendergraph and the inexplicable minutes given to Dahntay Jones, 0.500 will actually be pretty good.
Then again, they could shock me and be 14-6 or 15-5 by the end of the month, but there's one thing I've learned as a Pacers fan over the last few years: it's better to keep expectations low.