I feel like I’ve been talking to a wall lately. Sure, the Miami Heat are still the best team in the East, and that’s hard to dispute, but there is a contender sneaking up on them. A team that is poised to be a force in the conference for quite a few years and establish a challenge to the trio of South Beach. So back to my initial statement, I’ve been talking to a wall. Because as I keep saying that the Pacers are not only built for the playoffs, but also have what it takes to take the Heat in a 7 game series, it all falls on deaf ears.
If you’ve been watching any of the NBA games lately (or hectically switching between 3-4 at a time with League Pass like I have), you know there is a league-wide APB out on the Indiana Pacers because of how they’ve been handling teams. This team does not discriminate, they’ve put double digit whooping on the league’s best (Miami and New York) and totally embarrassed the worst (the 32 point demolition of the Pistons). Couple that with the fact that Indiana beat the Heat twice already and you have a winner.
Last season, a few things came up right away. The main reason was that they didn’t have a star to whom they would turn. Sure, Danny Granger was on his way there, but he never made it, an injury putting that to rest. Even then, they took a very good run into the playoffs last year and rattled some cages. Now, they actually have that guy in Paul George.
The first time All-Star who has been nothing short of phenomenal when his team called. He is legitimately a triple-double threat every night he steps on the court because of his amazing build and skill set. Maybe he’s not the best 3-point contest shooter in the world, but he hits them where it counts. He’s extremely athletic, skilled, can create his own shot and set up his team mates. And more importantly, he’s getting smarter by the minute.
Sure, Hibbert has fallen off a bit after singing a monstrous contract, but I think that will pass. There is a lot of pressure on the big man, who up until this point, did nothing but improve season after season in the NBA. I think the defensive rotations are more ready for the behemoth down low, which in turn frees up the perimeter space where George can flourish, making Hib’s struggles a blessing in disguise in a way. Also, you still cannot discount what a 7’2 giant brings to a basketball team on the defensive end and in terms of post presence.
Speaking of that same presence, remember this guy David West? The mental leader of a very tough Pacer squad who can give PF’s nightmares. While his name doesn’t often come when you discuss the elite big men, I think the man is hugely underrated. While 17 and 7 is not particularly impressive for the position, he’s doing a very efficient job of it and is an underrated low post passer which helps spread the floor.
The most important part about the Pacers is they play stifling defence on almost all the opposition. Remember last year when they held the Heat under 75 for two consecutive games? And then again this year when they did under 90? The team has the discipline necessary to stay a contender. While the Spurs use Popovich’s schemes to stay ahead of the curve, the Pacers not only have a great defensive rotation, but also tremendous individuals who are able to play face-up D one on one.
The major weakness for this team is their offensive consistency. It is hard to figure them out when one night they can scorch you, and the other struggle for point. Luckily, their defence more than makes up for it.
It’s too early to say if the Pacers are a true threat to the Heat, but as it goes, all signs point to yes. They will need to defend home court well (they’ve been doing that) and stay mentally tough. It’s not a guarantee for a seven game series win, but they stand the most chance out of the east. No matter what happens, it will be the most entertaining match-up in the Conference.