When an NBA team is on a losing streak, it feels like the world is falling out from below them. Nothing’s going right anymore. People start to point fingers at one another, not ready to own the blame themselves. And so when it does eventually end, it lifts the spirits of every player, near and far. 

When your team is getting blown out, maybe a halftime break playing casino games is all that’s needed for a quick pick-me-up. For the Indiana Pacers, it was a game against their division foe Chicago Bulls, that finally proved to be the one.

The Comeback Kids

The thing is, when your All-Star starting point guard gets hurt and is slated to miss several weeks, losses are likely to follow up. Unless the team is a well-oiled machine with a long-tenured coach who is prepared, it’s just nature. And the Pacers had dropped seven in a row heading into their battle with Chicago Tuesday night. 

They fell behind by 21 points in the game and got off to a slow start in three of the four quarters. But they continued to scratch and claw. Powered by veterans TJ McConnell (20 points, 10 assists, three steals) and Myles Turner (26 points, seven rebounds), they were able to fill it up enough to come away with the victory. They kept one of the hottest shooters in the league in Zach LaVine from being able to have any kind of impact, holding him without a three.

Terry Taylor, who hasn’t played much in the last few months, came in and scored 11 points in 20 minutes off the bench. ROTY candidate Bennedict Mathurin added 26 points and seven rebounds, a line identical to that of Turner. They needed the 37 points the two of them added, as the bench, aside from those guys, didn’t really show up.

Indiana needed this win as much as any team around the league has needed anything recently. But in getting it, they can put the skid in the rearview and focus on moving their way back up the East.

The Spirits Have Been Lifted

Rick Carlisle has been coaching in the NBA for a long time. He had a few years in Indy, which followed with him heading to the Pistons to spend a couple of seasons trying to get them their second NBA title of the decade. After he was promptly fired following two seasons, he headed to the Dallas Mavericks. He brought them a title in 2011, and everything was all good and well.

But, he didn’t lead them to any other playoff series wins in the nine years that followed their championship. Now, he’s in his second stint in Indy. And the thing is, he is doing better than his predecessor. The last Pacers coach was Nate Bjorkgren, who was clearly not ready to be in charge of a locker room. The fact that they are competing for a play-in spot should be welcoming news.

But then again, the amount of talent possessed here may encourage even more. Wins do need to happen. Perhaps, they’ll make some moves at the deadline. If they ship out Buddy Hield, they would clear the way for Mathurin to become a starter. If they can move on from Chris Duarte, they’ll open up further minutes for him and maybe Trevelin Queen. Perhaps, they’re thinking about moving Jalen Smith and getting Isaiah Jackson to pick up all the minutes and blocks.

One thing is for sure, here. The team is competitive. And they’re feeling good after finally winning again.

Indiana’s 2023 Ceiling

At the end of the day, the Pacers aren’t out there competing to win the 2023 NBA title. They are playing as a unit, trying to collectively improve with every game. If they can do enough winning, they can get into the play-in, where 1-2 more victories will help them etch their names into a best-of-7 set with a powerhouse.

The most important thing the team can get out of the season is experience. As many big games as possible. And figure out the long-term roster, and whether or not that includes Hield or Turner. Only time will tell if the team will move them. Whether they do or not, they have their superstar in Tyrese Haliburton, eager to come back from injury and lead once again.