Philadelphia, PA – There is not a single team in the NBA that can absorb the blow of losing an All-Star, or a leading scorer, or, heaven forbid, one guy who is both.
The Indiana Pacers will have to find a way to deal with that specific doomsday scenario.
Danny Granger, an All-Star in 2008-09 and the team's leading scorer the last five seasons, will be out of action for at least three months. He received an injection in his knee Tuesday to treat left patellar tendinosis.
The Pacers were picked by many to finish high in the Eastern Conference this season. They were the No. 3 seed in the playoffs last season and with Derrick Rose sidelined for a while, Indiana was favored over the Chicago Bulls to win the Central Division.
Can the Pacers still finish that high without Granger?
The answer lies in two more questions: is the Pacers roster good enough without Granger, and is the Central weak enough for the Pacers to do it?
More than a week into the season, answering those questions is more fruitless than my diet in college. Early indications are "no" to both questions.
The Pacers are 2-3. At first glance, that's not great, but look deeper.
Indiana has played four of its first five on the road. The Pacers have already gone to San Antonio to play the Spurs and Atlanta to play the Hawks. That's two playoff teams, so those are admirable defeats. A loss to the Charlotte Hornets is not. Their only home game was a double-overtime victory over the Sacramento Kings. That doesn't exactly inspire confidence either.
The Pacers rank 27th in the NBA in scoring at 90 points per game, a full 20 points behind the league-leading Miami Heat. David West leads the team in Granger's absence with 17.4 ppg. Paul George and George Hill are both over double figures.
Roy Hibbert's 8.8 ppg is way too low and the combination of Gerald Green and Sam Young, the replacement starters for Granger, combine for 11.2 ppg. And Lance Stephenson is inching his way into the mix with 7.8 ppg.
Those numbers almost across the board are far too low. Maybe the Pacers haven't invested too much into the possibility that Granger would be gone for so long, but reality is reality and the scoring needs to improve, especially from Hibbert on the low block.
Defensively, they allow 93.2 ppg, a perfectly respectable total. The Pacers lead the NBA in rebounding with 50.8 a game and their differential on the glass is plus-5.6, which is sixth in the league.
Defense doesn't seem to be the problem.
It's on the offensive end things need to improve, and you have to believe they will.
Hibbert was an All-Star last season with a 12.8 ppg and 8.8 rebounds a night. Both were career highs. George's career has been on the upswing every season and there's reason to believe his numbers will grow. Someone will have to replace Granger's shots and George makes the most sense. He's a 3-point shooter and West isn't.
West is the real key to the whole thing. His tenacity and leadership is something worth believing in for Pacers' fans. West is a two-time All-Star and call it unconditional faith, but he is still capable of carrying a team for a period of time.
There is enough talent without Granger to win ball games. Now they know Granger will be back after Valentine's Day and the mind-set changes. Everyone has to assert themselves. It'll happen. Let's call it Pacers faith.
As for the rest of the division, well, things could look better for Indiana.
Those of us who felt that Rose's absence would severely hamper the Bulls have not been paid off on their belief. Perhaps it was foolish for us to think that way since the Bulls went 18-9 without Rose last regular season, but being called a fool is the nicest thing I'd hear in any given week.
The Bulls are 3-1, but, like the Pacers, look further into that mark. They've played three of four at home and their only venture outside the Windy City was to Cleveland.
Plus, the Bulls lost at home to the New Orleans Hornets, and if you watched that squad Wednesday night against the Philadelphia Sixers, you might have tried to gently rip your own eyeballs out of the socket.
The Bulls' other opponents were the Sacramento Kings and Orlando Magic. All four of the above-mentioned teams the Bulls played will be in the NBA Lottery.
The Bulls have many weaknesses, including the down cycles career-wise of Carlos Boozer and Rip Hamilton. Chicago plays three more in a row at home, then embarks on a five-game road trip. If the Bulls are still atop the division after that, we can re-address the issue.
Don't give me the Milwaukee Bucks. Just don't.
When Granger's status was in something of limbo, the Pacers subconsciously played a little differently. Now, there's a timetable. Now, the Pacers know they won't see him until close to the All-Star break.
Based on their careers, it's a fair assumption to think the Pacers' stats will improve and, again, let's see Chicago after some real competition.
And, if you don't feel a little better about Indiana, think of this: The Pacers have five straight home games in February and seven out of eight to finish the month. A few months with Granger at the end of the season could mean all the Pacers have to do is tread water until he gets back.
Everything will be OK. The Pacers will still be contenders. Call it Pacers faith.
- The 76ers badly need Andrew Bynum back. Their offense has no go-to guy, and in Bynum's absence, there is no structure to their sets. They are the lowest- scoring team in the NBA and 28th in assists.
- If I was an Eastern Conference team, I'd be terrified of the Hawks. They've already beaten the Oklahoma City Thunder on the road, and did that without Josh Smith. Al Horford is a beast and Lou Williams is the best bench scorer in the league, contrary to what Jamal Crawford is doing with the Los Angeles Clippers.
- My pick for the best "bad" team in the NBA was the Detroit Pistons. They are 0-5.
- Two players were formally warned for flopping. Yawn. The flop rule ultimately has no teeth because these post-game warnings and possible fines won't deter players from doing it in actual game conditions.
- Movie moment - Word is that there are more "Star Wars" movies in the works and Harrison Ford is willing to reprise his role as Han Solo, the greatest movie character of all-time. Makes a lot of sense since they will all make buckets of money, but personally I pray against this idea. The movies don't hold up for adults, as expected, and maybe my mind was skewed by how many mid-20s, "ladies men" dressed as Jedis I had to avoid in line for popcorn for the last three movies, but this series has died.
- TV moment - Election night coverage made me miss the great Tim Russert. NBC made the ice-skating rink at 30 Rock a map of the country and everyone had computer-specific technology that could pinpoint how many single Eskimo women voted for Mitt Romney in Cook County alone. Russert used to have a dry-erase board, a marker and a smile.