The Pacers have stumbled and practically backed their way into the NBA's second season going 11-13 since March after a franchise-best 16-1 start.
What appeared to be a team that was set to fulfill their preseason billing as the main threats to the Miami Heat's 3-peat title dreams early in the season has turned into a bunch of individuals that look lost on the court as if it were the first time they played together.
Their first order of business - the Atlanta Hawks - is a team that bears an ugly reminder of how bad things got for this Pacers unit. The Hawks handed the Pacers their worst home loss less than two weeks ago when they were held to a franchise-low 23 first half points en-route to a 107-88 blowout wherein the final score suggested little about how one-sided the game was played. Things got so bad that fans reigned Bankers Life Fieldhouse with the loudest "boos" hurled at the home team, and All-Star center Roy Hibbert rode the bench the entire second half.
So what are some questions the number one seeded Pacers need to answer against the Hawks in their first round matchup?
Which Roy Hibbert will show up?
Roy Hibbert's struggles in the last two months have been well documented. The two-time All-Star also started some controversy after calling out his teammates in the media. His production has dropped and fans have started questioning whether he is worth his max contract price tag.
In the last nine game, Hibbert has averaged a sad 6.8 points on 27.2 percent shooting and pitiful 3.7 rebounds.
Hibbert has shown that he can step his game up in the post season and in big games. Can he do that again this time around and stay consistent?
Can Evan Turner be the bench scorer the Pacers hoped he could be?
Evan Turner was brought to the Pacers in a trade deadline-beating deal in hopes to bolster the Pacers' struggling bench scoring. The price was steep, as long-time Pacers leader and fan favorite Danny Granger was sent packing in order to acquire the former College Basketball Player of the Year's services.
It's been a mixed bag with Turner so far, and the win-loss record didn't support his value either. Let's see if Turner's big-game reputation holds true for the Pacers this post season.
Is Frank Vogel capable of leading the Pacers to the Finals?
Frank Vogel has had his highs and lows as the Pacers head coach, from being named the Eastern Conference All-Star coach to having little answer in curbing the Pacers' struggles after the All-Star break. In last season's playoffs, his move of taking Roy Hibbert out of the game in the Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Heat for the last defensive play proved costly. His penchant for routine hurt the team dearly in Game 7 of the same series as he took too long to react to rotation switches and substitutions which allowed the Heat to run away with a big lead in the second quarter after taking advantage of the Pacers' second unit. Can Vogel prove he is a big time Playoffs coach, or simply a good regular season coach?
Can Ian Mahinmi provide quality minutes?
The Pacers brought in Andrew Bynum midway through the season because they saw the need at the center position in instances when Roy Hibbert got into foul trouble and struggled, and with Ian Mahinmi leaving much to be desired with his inconsistent play. Bynum has been ruled out of the first round. Can Mahinmi provide some quality minutes in his place off the bench, furthermore, step in for Hibbert in the event that he continues to struggle?
Can George Hill prove he can lead the Pacers all the way?
George Hill isn't a natural point guard. Even he himself admits it. When his backup CJ Watson went out with an injury, Hill, together with the Pacers' offense, struggled mightily and looked like a .500 team. When Hill plays aggressive and solid at point, the Pacers have been successful in the postseason. Can he string enough games together for the Pacers to make it all the way to the Finals?
Is Paul George ready to become a superstar?
Much has been expected of the Pacers' two-time All-Star, and at times, people wonder if it's too much. Paul George isn't only tasked to carry the brunt of the offensive load for the Pacers, he is also their premiere perimeter stopper often matched up against the Lebrons and the Durants of the league. Can George overcome fatigue, pressure and the added attention defenses are surely going to give him and prove himself worthy of being called a superstar and lead the Pacers to the promised land?