Indiana Pacers, The Whiteboard

The Whiteboard: What do the Pacers do without Victor Oladipo?

A surprisingly strong season from the Indiana Pacers may have been derailed by an ugly knee injury for Victor Oladipo.

It’s become an increasingly, and painfully, familiar moment. A splendid athlete falls to the floor, just as they do dozens of time every game. Among the morass of bodies, you can’t see what happened or why they fell, and you don’t realize you need to until the game unexpectedly stops. Then you notice a teammate or two standing over the fallen player, motioning frantically for the trainer to come off the bench.

The announcers do their best to fill dead air with something other than the existential dread they’re almost certainly feeling, watching players emotionally circle up around their teammate as the medical staff works. At some point, the replay is shown and you watch, through your fingers, hoping against hope that it wasn’t as bad as everyone in the arena’s faces make it seem. Maybe you get a graphic image, maybe not. Later, you’ll see a tweet with grave-sounding adjectives but not many details, an appointment has been made for an MRI. You’ll hear more later. The rest of the game feels drained and flaccid. It ends and you go through your nighttime rituals accompanied by that unshakable image, of physical frailty and emotionally fragility foisted upon what is supposed to be just fun and games.

Last night, it was Victor Oladipo’s turn. As he chased Pascal Siakam in transition he fell. His knee gave out. Time stopped. Players appeared to notice something viscerally disturbing about the state of his knee, which brought forth the medical staff who covered it with a towel. There was no graphic image here but, honestly, the towel was almost worse. Leaving the twist appendages below to your imagination.

All signs point to this being an injury related to his kneecap, given the issues Oladipo had earlier this season. According to the indelible Woj follow-up tweet, the injury is serious, season-ending and requires surgery. Now we get to enjoy the miserable pastimes of imagining silver linings for Oladipo and the Pacers.

Indiana came out with the win, beating the Raptors, currently the best team in the Eastern Conference. Coming into this game they were outscoring teams by an average of 5.7 points per 100 possessions, the fourth-best differential in the NBA. They have survived without Oladipo in the past — going 7-4 over an 11-game stretch he missed earlier this season. Whether they can repeat that remains to be seen, but their hold on homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs suddenly looks a lot more tenuous. Any fanciful ideas of slipping through the gauntlet and into the Finals should probably be set aside.

The Pacers will have lots of big decisions to make this offseason about the direction of the team and how to secure their future, both short- and long-term. If this is indeed the end of Oladipo’s season, they’re robbed of precious information about the position they’re starting from in making those decisions. The most important question right now is, obviously, what is the prognosis for Oladipo and how will it affect his quality of life? The second-most important question is what does that prognosis mean for his future as a basketball player? Once the Pacers have some idea of those answers they can start figuring out what in the heck to do next.

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