By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - For Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel, the one shining light in an injury-hit campaign where the Eastern Conference finalists of the past two seasons have resembled a sinking ship has been the team's strong unity.
Very few teams, if any, in the league could withstand the loss of a standout forward for an entire season and lengthy absences of two other key players but Indiana have refused to adopt a "woe is me" attitude.
Though they have stuttered to a dismal 8-18 record while struggling with patched-up lineups and unfamiliar plays, they have strived to compete as a team and Vogel has only praise for Indiana's collective spirit.
"Despite a difficult situation and a lot of losses, everyone has really stayed positive, believing in one another and believing in what we do," Vogel told Reuters before the Pacers' 102-100 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday.
"Even though we've had losses at the rate we have, where we are used to winning at a much higher rate, it's easy (for the team) to separate and it's easy to crack but we haven't done that and that's most impressive.
"It's been tough, no doubt about it, and it's no fun losing. We're hoping that the way we started is not how we're going to finish the season, and how the season is going to be defined."
The Pacers were deflated after losing All-Star forward Paul George, due to a broken right leg, and shooting guard Lance Stephenson, to the Charlotte Hornets on a three-year contract, before the start of the 2014-15 season.
However, point guard George Hill has also been sidelined, with a bruised left knee, and with power forward David West playing in only 11 games because of a sprained right ankle, Indiana's expectations have been lowered considerably.
"Obviously you lose your best player, things change," twice All-Star West told Reuters after scoring 17 points against the Clippers.
"We didn't start the year off healthy, there were not a lot of bodies, no familiarity with the lineups, stuff like that. We are just a work in progress. We've got to figure it out as the games come and as the season rolls along.
"We just keep the mojo going, even though it's a grind. We've got a lot of basketball left. You've got to adjust. You're just trying to make the best of whoever is available to play."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)