You’d have to have a heart of stone not to feel some sympathy for the Indiana Pacers.
Losing Lance Stephenson to the Charlotte Hornets through free agency was unfortunate. Ceding Paul George to a freak injury was simply misfortune.
However, it means the Pacers are set to suffer a massive regression this season, plummeting from Eastern Conference finalists last June to a team that may toil to reach the Playoffs. In fact, even odds of 12.00 to take the Central Division look frugal with Detroit Pistons probably capable of earning the mantle of best team there not called Chicago or Cleveland.
In fact, beating the woe begotten 76ers in their opener could be the last time Indiana is above .500 all year if they lose at the Atlanta Hawks tonight.
Their bad luck has been compounded by injuries to David West, CJ Watson and George Hill, an unbelievable casualty list that will take a wrecking ball to their familiar coda of defence-first basketball.
Once that trio returns to full health, we might see Indiana as one of the better points-stopping teams in the NBA but scoring is going to be at a premium against the elite.
Whether the Hawks qualify for that designation is doubtful but they’ll have fresh memories of their seven-game loss to the Pacers in the first round of the post-season last spring.
And although they lost 109-102 to Toronto in their opener, I still see them as a sleeper pick that can be move up the rankings this term.
They are 5.00 to top the Southeast division – fourth in the list – but with good coaching and ample continuity, they can overtake Miami and Charlotte, and perhaps capitalise if Washington falter.
As for the Pacers, who are 5.75 for the win, the slow down starts now.
Best bet: Go over 194.5 total points in Atlanta-Indiana at 1.95