Indiana Pacers: Statement Week for Frank Vogel's Team

Geoff EstesCorrespondent IJanuary 7, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 24: Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat goes up for a shot against Roy Hibbert #55 of the Indiana Pacers in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Semifinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on May 24, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Though it may not be the toughest division in the NBA, the Pacers are nevertheless leading the Central Division 34 games into the season.

Overcoming a slow start to the season and being aided by a relatively weak schedule has been a big confidence boost for the Pacers, who remain without Danny Granger for the foreseeable future.

While confidence may be high right now in Bankers Life Fieldhouse, this coming week could tell where the Pacers truly stand in the Eastern Conference.

The week starts tomorrow night against LeBron and the Miami Heat. The Heat come to Bankers Life for the first time since Game Six of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals last year. Remember, this is a team over which the Pacers had a 2-1 lead heading into the second half of Game Four. That is when LeBron and Dwayne Wade took over and led the Heat all the way to the NBA Championship.

The confidence and swagger of this current group of Pacers may never have been higher than it was heading into that Game Four. Along with that, the fan presence at Bankers Life had not been higher since Reggie Miller was in a Pacer uniform. 

I am sure fans will come out in large numbers tomorrow night, though some may be in Black and Red. It is an opportunity for the Pacers to make a statement and re-establish themselves as a viable threat to the Heat. 

This is not, however, the only statement game the Pacers have this week. On Thursday, on TNT, the Pacers welcome the hated Knicks. On top of that, Reggie Miller will be in the house, calling the game.

These will be two of the hottest tickets for a Pacers home game all season, and will likely be two of the most watched Pacers games nationally, as well. This is a big opportunity for the Pacers, but it also brings with it a lot of pressure.

There is pressure on two guys in particular: Roy Hibbert and Paul George. 

Big Roy was a huge reason why the Pacers had a 2-1 lead over the Heat last season. He was dominant inside against the small Miami lineup and will have to do it again for the Pacers to beat the Heat on Tuesday night. He has had well-publicized struggles this season and will need to right the ship and establish a low-post presence for the Pacers to win this game.

Paul George will have to show up as well. George had a breakout month of December, and is averaging career highs in points (16.4) and rebounds (7.3) per game. 

But many Pacers fans remember George being totally taken out of his game by the Heat last season. 

He has a chance to erase those memories Tuesday night, but will have to follow it up Thursday on national television in a marquee matchup against Carmelo and the Knicks.

George has established himself as a premier perimeter defender but has his work cut out for him against the Knicks. Whoever he is guarding, whether it be Anthony, J.R. Smith or Steve Novak, he will have to bring it on both ends of the court.

The Pacers end the week with back-to-back games, at home against Charlotte on Saturday night and at Brooklyn on Sunday. Charlotte has been a mess, but they did upset the Pacers back in November, led by Kemba Walker's ability to get into the lane with ease.

Brooklyn are winners of three in a row and could be a potential first-round playoff opponent for the Pacers. This game is also being televised nationally on NBATV.

While the Charlotte and Brooklyn matchups are not going to get the hype of the Heat and Knicks games, they are also very important to this Pacers team.

One week from today, Pacers fans could feel very good about the direction of this team—or very bad. 

It is a statement week for the Pacers against the elite teams in the NBA Eastern Conference. They laid an egg last weekend in Boston; now they have the chance to enter right back into the Eastern Conference Finals discussion with a strong four games.