Now's as good a time as any to congratulate the Pacers for making the playoffs again for the first time since 2006.
I haven't had many opportunities to write about the Pacers (other than to make the random plug for TiqIQ-Get your playoff tickets HERE!).
There's been some small debate about whether it would have behoved the Pacers not to make the playoffs rather than finish 8th and be fodder for the Bulls. Let me say the answer to that is a definitive NO. First of all, moving up literally one slot (with an infinitesimal chance of winning the lottery!) in a year that threatens to be one of the weakest drafts in recent memory would not help the team at all.
Secondly, it takes time to learn to win in the NBA. Consider the Pacers of the early 90s.
They made the playoffs every year from 1990 to 1993. Each year they won between 40 and 42 games.
In 1990 they got swept by the Pistons.
In 1991 they pushed the Celtics to five games before an aging Larry Bird had his final moment of glory in game five.
In 1992 they got swept by the Celtics.
In 1993 the lost to the Knicks in four. I was at game four, which they lost in overtime.
Then in 1994, the improved by 6 wins, finally moving past the .500 mark and went to the Eastern Conference Finals. They would be a fixture there, making that round six of the next 11 years.
But it didn't happen overnight. The Pacers are still a player or two away from being a top tier team in the East. They probably won't ever be able to compete with the Heat and Bulls, but with the Celtics aging and the Magic regressing (and with rumors of Howard leaving), there is room for a new time to join the top half of the East.
The Pacers have pieces. They lack that one dynamic player who can pull the whole thing together, but this year was an encouraging sign. Maybe the Pacers do get swept. Maybe they manage to eek out a game or two (hey, I can dream!), but the experience of playoff basketball is invaluable.
Our Pacers are on the way back.
They've been gone too long.