Pacers season concludes in Memphis, one win short

The Indiana Pacers’ season came to a close late Wednesday night in Memphis as they were worked inside and ran out of energy on the second night of a back-to-back and against a team that was still playing for seeding. The Pacers had the ability to control their own fate — win and they were in — and that’s all you can ask for.

The Pacers were handled inside by Grizzlies’ Marc Gasol (33 points, 13 rebounds) and Indiana native Zach Randolph (18 points, 9 rebounds). Memphis won the points in the paint battle, 48-32, and outrebounded Indiana by 12. Those two outscored Roy Hibbert and David West, 51-18, helping the Grizzlies to a 95-83 win and sweep of the season series.

As a result, Brooklyn, who has the same records, owns the tiebreaker and takes the No. 8 seed. They face No. 1 Atlanta in Round 1. The Pacers, meanwhile, have failed to qualify for the playoffs for the first time during the Frank Vogel Era (five years).

With a 38-44 record, Indiana exceeded the expectations of most considering Paul George broke his right leg in August. (Full disclosure: I predicted they would win 37 games.) The Pacers then opened the year without George Hill, C.J. Watson, and David West. In total, 219 games were missed due to injuries, a staggering number — and way up from 69 a year ago.

After a slow start to the year, partly due to a lack of key bodies, the Pacers finished the year strong. They won six of their final seven games, and were 21-12 since Feb. 2 — the third-best record in the Eastern Conference.

Although Paul George suffered a left calf strain — not the leg he fractured — late in the loss to Memphis, it doesn’t appear to be serious. He wanted to get multiple games behind him before the offseason, helping him test the leg and evaluate where he was at individually. He does plan to attend USA Basketball camp again in July.

Last fall, I dubbed this season “The Year of Discovery” and I think that’s exactly what it turned out to be.

A snapshot of what we learned:

  • Frank Vogel is the right man for this job. Through turbulence, he kept the team together and the ball was in their court to make the playoffs.
  • George Hill is a starter in this league and he should play a large role moving forward. His “offseason of hell” brought him back tougher and more determined than ever. His heart and passion for this city is immeasurable. It’s just too bad he’s not in the playoffs for the first time of his career.
  • The offseason signings of C.J. Miles and Rodney Stuckey worked out very well. Though they each were bothered by multiple injuries throughout the year, especially Miles, they were terrific when healthy. Miles scored at least 24 points in each of the final four games. Stuckey, who thrived off the bench, was on a one-year deal but seems very willing to return. He’ll want and need to get paid, of course. Miles is on board for another three, and it seems likely that he’ll pair up to start again with Hill in the backcourt. They got both of them for about half the cost of Lance Stephenson, who signed — and struggled immensely — with Charlotte.
  • By the way, Stuckey is getting married this summer.
  • Contest over, Miles is the best interview on the team. (Thank you, C.J.!)
  • Something still isn’t right with Roy Hibbert. He’s not consistent and isn’t getting the verticality call as often at the rim. (Sidenote: He informed Area 55 members earlier this year that this year was the last one for his section.
  • Luis Scola, the oldest player on the team (34), still has game. It took him a year, but he played well this season as the backup power forward. He is a free agent, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him head elsewhere. However, he’s settled and comfortable in Indy, and has always been one of Larry Bird’s favorites.
  • C.J. Watson, another free agent, was solid at backup point guard and could space the floor with his 3-point shooting but his ongoing injuries are frustrating. He was absent for 25 games, which is 30 percent of the season.
  • Damjan Rudež can play in this league. He shot better than 52 percent from 3-point land of the final two months. He’ll benefit from continuing to play with the Argentinian National Team, as he will in August.
  • Shayne Whittington can play, too. He recovered from a broken leg sooner than expected and spent an invaluable amount of time learning from a great group.
  • Chris Copeland wasn’t a good fit with the talent here. He’s one of the best locker room guys, it was just unfortunate for him that he signed here and then the team traded for Scola. That blocked any chance he had to truly contribute. I could see him landing back in New York. (By the way, continued good thoughts sent his way.)
  • The Flo-Jo magic (7-0) was fun while it lasted. The team is due for new uniforms…
  • Lastly, Pacers fans are great. Most* stayed with them the entire way and were fantastic over the final month.
  • Oh, and kudos to the Pacers’ medical staff, who had their hands full all season and never complained.

The Pacers will return to Indianapolis and have exit interviews with the front office. Unfortunately, they played their final game on the road and will not be made available to the media for final comments.

I think, at least right now, the front office will give it another run with this core. Hibbert ($15.5M) and West ($12.6M) both have player options and it’ll be difficult for them to get that kind of money anywhere else.

Indiana’s free-agent list: Lavoy Allen, Chris Copeland, Luis Scola, Donald Sloan, Rodney Stuckey, and C.J. Watson.

As for the draft, it’s scheduled to be held on Thursday, June 25 in New York City. The Pacers have both of their picks.

The scouting department, led by Ryan Carr, has been preparing for the June draft all year. They are all actually currently in Indianapolis for meetings. The Pacers are in the lottery, but have just 0.8 percent chance of winning.

Although finishing ninth in the conference, one spot out of the playoffs, is the worst-case scenario, I offer you this bright spot: In 2010, the last time the Pacers failed to qualify for the postseason, they drafted Paul George at No. 10.

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