ESPN recently polled several basketball experts about which team will finish where. The result should have Pacer fans excited about the future. The poll did not have the Pacers as the clear-cut, second-best team in the Eastern Conference as star forward, Danny Granger would suggest. The experts have the Pacers finishing tied for second with the Boston Celtics and behind the Miami Heat.
What that means is, great expectations are placed on the shoulders of the Pacer players to produce a great season.
The Pacers finished third in the East last season. There were some NBA fans outside of the Pacer faithful who felt that the team had a real chance at reaching the Finals. They were justified when the Pacers pushed the eventual champion, the Heat, in the second round of the playoffs.
Can the Pacers improve and go deeper in the playoffs next season? Winning the division will go a long way in determining what they are capable of.
Here are a few reasons why the Pacers can win the Central Division.
Size matters in the NBA.
Looking to prove that last season was not a fluke, the Pacers started their serious business by retooling their depth.
The Pacers were already considered a big team. Retaining Roy Hibbert kept all things equal, but acquiring Ian Mahinmi from Dallas in a sign-in-trade was a true way of capitalizing on a surefire strength.
As the Bulls got smaller (replacing Omer Asik with Nazr Mohammed), the Pacers got bigger.
Last season, the Pacers gave their Central Division rivals fits because of their size; now that advantage has increased.
Will they recover from their second-round exit?
Some teams fade after a disappointing playoff loss but for the Pacers, I believe that it was a rite of passage.
Many fingers point in the direction of inexperience when searching for the reason why they lost a 2-1 series lead against the Heat. The latter part of their series was littered with flagrant fouls, untimely cold shooting and flopping which led to a lot of uneven play.
Consider the fact that Granger struggled with his shot throughout the playoffs. When he was not struggling from the field, Granger found an enemy by the name of LeBron James.
The two fought for loose balls, rebounds and overall court domination. In the end, Granger lost his cool while LeBron flopped his way to the Eastern Conference finals.
Can the Pacers take advantage of an injury-ravaged Bulls team?
In Chicago there was a deafening amount of silence when Derrick Rose tore his ACL in the first game of the playoffs. Every other team, on the other hand, let out a sigh of relief.
While no one wants to see any player suffer from a long-term injury, there will always be teams that will want to sweat less in the playoffs.
To the Pacers' credit, they have historically played the Bulls tough, with or without Rose. There is no fear to factor in. Without Rose, the Bulls do not have the go-to player who can win games by himself night in and night out. With Rose eyeballing a comeback before the season ends, the Bulls cannot be counted out.
Also, the Bulls do still have an All-Star in Luol Deng and two players who are on the verge of breaking out (Taj’ Gibson and Jimmy Butler). Not to mention one of the NBA’s best coaches in Tom Thibodeau.
The Bulls will not go down quietly.
In the end, winning the Central division will be a tough task even if things work according to plan. There are expectations.
Can the Pacers deliver?
I give them a 40 percent chance of winning the NBA Central. With a five-team division, those are damn good odds.