By Rob Mahoney
Mere days after Indiana head coach Frank Vogel made note of Danny Granger's seemingly imminent return, the Pacers have ruled their high-scoring forward out for the season. According to the team, Granger will undergo another surgery on his left knee after lingering soreness was not relieved by rest and rehabilitation, thus removing any possibility for Granger to bolster Indiana's lineup during the playoffs. He is expected to be available for the start of training camp next season.
This has been a trying season for Granger, who managed to play just five games in between his two surgical procedures. Indiana, on the other hand, has fared surprisingly well in Granger’s absence with a 45-27 record, good for No. 3 in the East. They even managed to score at an above-average rate over the last 20 games, per NBA.com, after previously ranking near the bottom of the league in offensive efficiency. That, in addition to Indiana's fantastically stingy defense, should keep the Pacers rooted firmly in the East's second tier to contend with the likes of New York and Brooklyn for the honor of being the conference's runner-up.
But any hope that Indiana had of elevating their play with a late-season addition is now gone; Granger represented the difference between the Pacers merely competing with the Heat and actually challenging them in a potential playoff series, if only because of the strategic boon that he provided to Vogel in terms of matchup manipulation and starter/reserve balance. As it stands, Indiana will do fine in leaning heavily on a sturdy starting lineup, but ultimately looks to fall a bit short of Miami's incredible benchmark. There's no shame in that, and even without Granger we can be assured that a smart, hard-working Pacers team will manage a perfectly respectable postseason showing. As nice as it would have been for Indiana to add Granger to the mix, this Pacers team is more than comfortable operating without him at this point. They've learned to rely on the versatile talents of Paul George and David West, to thrive by the steady hand of George Hill and to trust Lance Stephenson for selective scoring. Roy Hibbert has come around a bit to carry some offensive weight, all while challenging shots in the paint at an All-NBA level and aiding in the Pacers' sound rebounding dominance. This all makes for a good team and a nice formula, but it's going to take something special to derail the Heat this season -- and that level of two-way excellence just doesn't seem possible without Granger's volume scoring and defensive efficacy in the lineup.