In 2007-08, the Pacers surged late, winning 11 of their final 16 games, but fell short of the playoffs with a 36-46 record.
In 2008-09, the Pacers surged late, winning eight of their final 12 games, but fell short of the playoffs with a 36-46 record.
The numbers are remarkably similar.
The atmosphere is entirely different.
"I think that everybody certainly feels that," said Coach Jim O'Brien. "We had not started to change things around this time last year. With all the moves we made and the type of people we feel are wearing the uniform now, there's a whole different positive outlook. We weren't playing two rookies and we weren't seeing two rookies develop, and they're developing very nicely. We had a whole different pair of point guards. It's dramatic, the feel that we have.
"It's a team that they respect one another, they enjoy being around one another. The guys after practice hang around. They're not rushing out the door. They play well together, they challenge each other and there's a great chemistry. And chemistry always starts with management making sure that they have people in uniform that are the type of people that we can be proud of having in the uniform at all times and that's what Larry has put together.
As the Pacers head into the summer of 2009, they do so with the sense that there will be more change to the roster. Five players become free agents (Jarrett Jack, Rasho Nesterovic, Maceo Baston, Stephen Graham and Josh McRoberts). The Pacers almost certainly will exercise their option to make Marquis Daniels a free agent. Travis Diener has indicated he'll consider exercising his opt-out.
After bringing in seven new faces a year ago, they could lose seven this summer. It's another parallel that is nothing more than coincidence.
Last year, the nucleus of the team required revamping, as did its image. Now, the core is largely intact. This is a roster that needs tweaking, not demolition.
"I think we're going in the right direction," said Troy Murphy. "Last year, we had some guys that we knew were going to get traded. This year we know this is going to be the core group of guys and we're going to grow together and hopefully be together for a few years and make it to the playoffs and advance in the playoffs. We have guys that want to be here and guys that are going to be here for a while, we hope.
"This has been the best locker room I've been in in eight years in the NBA. We really have a great group. When I first came here, I don't think it was always that way. Last year, it really wasn't towards the end. I'm happy to play with these guys and come and work with them every day."
Though they missed the playoffs for the third year in a row, the season was not without accomplishment.
Danny Granger, who replaced Jermaine O'Neal as the face of the franchise, made his first All-Star appearance, ranked fifth in the NBA with the highest scoring average by a Pacers player since 1976-77, and became the first player ever to raise his scoring average at least five points in three seasons. He's also a leading candidate for the Most Improved Player award.
Murphy became the first player in league history to finish in the top five in rebounding and 3-point percentage. Only one other player has finished in the top 10 in both – Larry Bird, who did it three times. He also set franchise records for total rebounds and defensive rebounds.
Rookies Brandon Rush and Roy Hibbert combined to start 61 games and play more than 2,800 minutes and both are projected starters for 2009-10.
T.J. Ford (14.9), Jarrett Jack (13.1) and Daniels (13.6) all posted career-high scoring averages.
Collectively, they proved to be giant-killers, recording victories over five of the six division winners, including the four teams with the best records (the Cavs, Lakers, Celtics and Magic), no mean feat.
And when the calendar turned, so did they. The Pacers went 26-25 in 2009 (19-7 at home), 15-13 after the All-Star break.
Beyond the numbers, this was one of the most consistently competitive teams in the league. No team played more games decided by three points or less (21). No team played fewer games decided by 10 points or more (24).
"We're all friends," said Granger. "Most importantly, we're even friends off the court and I think that's big. We have really good chemistry. We've had our differences here and there but with team, any family, that will happen. I think the chemistry overall, this is a lot better group right here.
"We've been through all this together. We've been fighting the battle together. We want to stay in it till the end."
In the process, the Pacers began to regain their popularity with a fan base turned off by the previous iteration of the team. The Pacers averaged 16,203 fans for their final eight home games, an increase of more than 2,000 over their full-season average (14,182), which in itself represented an increase of 16 percent over 2007-08.
"If you look at last year, we put together a little push toward the end of the year but this is different," said Jeff Foster. "You know the majority of these guys that are playing will be back next year. They seem to be getting it and contributing.
"You know what? These last (few) weeks have been really refreshing."
That word doesn't get used a lot at the end of a long, hard season that ultimately fell short of its primary goal.
It applies, however, for the biggest reason things feel so different than 12 months ago.
Last year felt like the end.
This year feels like the beginning.