Specifically, was it ever a possibility when the Pacers’ season appeared to be a lost cause early on?
West insisted nobody in the locker room ever thought of just calling it a season or playing strictly for themselves. He’s seen that from the 76ers, whose management made it clear from this season’s outset that Philadelphia was going with a young roster with the goal of securing a high draft pick.
The Pacers (26-34) had reasons to, at the very least, doubt themselves. They lost six in a row after a season-opening win over the 76ers. Then there were losing streaks of eight and seven games.
“It’s never been about that,” said West, who on September’s media day had hinted at retirement after this season. “Our group was never focused on that.
“We knew with the injuries, and we started the season banged up, even through the injuries we talked about getting through that. Coach (Frank Vogel) was constantly talking about getting healthy and pushing guys to get healthy, talking ourselves through the tough games and ups and downs.”
Fans suggested on social media that the Pacers should lose to get a higher draft pick. They’ve also said George shouldn’t try to return this season, although he practiced for the first time last Thursday since suffering a compound fracture of his lower right leg on Aug. 1. And George is still hopeful he can be back in two to three weeks.
“It’s never been in our mind-set to sort of just wash our hands of the season,” West said.
The Pacers won their ninth in 11 games with a 105-82 Wednesday home rout of the New York Knicks, owners of the NBA’s worst record at 12-48. This one was basically finished by halftime with Indiana ahead 65-41.
The Knicks are just behind the 76ers (13-47) for that dubious distinction of worst record.
“I don’t know, maybe they’ve got some secret formula,” West said of the 76ers waiving the white flag early this season. “Being a part of that as a young player, I think it can kind of mess you up.”
Despite Philadelphia’s obvious intentions, one of the 76ers’ 13 wins came against the Pacers on Jan. 10.
Indiana, at the moment, is locked up with the Miami Heat, Brooklyn Nets, Charlotte Hornets, Boston Celtics and Detroit Pistons in the race for the Eastern Conference’s final two playoff spots — the teams are separated by 2.5 games. And the Pacers are playing at Bankers Life Fieldhouse right now — this was their third straight home game of what will be a stretch of eight out of nine in Indianapolis.
The Pacers host the Chicago Bulls (38-23) Friday. And Indiana is catching their Windy City rivals at the right time — stars Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler are out with injuries.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.