5 Reasons We Should Take the Indiana Pacers Seriously as Title Contenders

Ernest Shepard@@ernestshepardAnalyst IIIFebruary 9, 2013

5 Reasons We Should Take the Indiana Pacers Seriously as Title Contenders

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    The Indiana Pacers are contenders for the NBA title. After pushing the Miami Heat to six games in the Eastern Conference semifinals last season, the Pacers have positioned themselves for a longer run in the NBA playoffs.

    The East was stronger last year with the Heat, Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls among the title contenders. The upstart Pacers crashed the party once they took a seemingly commanding 2-1 lead versus the Heat.

    Overall playoff inexperience doomed the Pacers eventually, but what they learned from that series propelled them into the small elite class of Eastern Conference.

Past Playoff Letdowns Have Prepared the Pacers

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    The loss to the Heat in the Eastern Conference semis taught the Pacers a harsh lesson—no lead is safe.

    Up 2-1 with Game 4 held on the Pacers' home floor, the Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the Pacers took the floor confident. They raced out to a 25-18 lead at the end of the first quarter, even went into halftime up by eight points.

    It was a horrible third quarter that hurt the Pacers. The Heat outscored them 30-16 behind the play of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

    Miami’s dynamic duo combined for 43 points in the second half of Game 4, besting the Pacers' entire team by four points.

    In the 2010-11 season, the Pacers were bounced by the Bulls in the first round, despite outplaying them throughout the series.

    They have paid their dues in the playoffs in the past two years; it is time for the disappointments to pay off.   

Frank Vogel is a Darn Good Coach

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    The 39-year-old Frank Vogel does not get the credit he deserves. How many coaches had a career record of 93-62 in their first 155 games? Not many. Once Vogel notches his 100th win, he will have become one the fastest in league history to do so.

    Another thing that is impressive about Vogel is the fact that he does not have legitimate NBA superstars on his roster. Vogel has good players in Paul George, David West and others, yet none of them are elite at this time.

    What Vogel has done in getting his players to buy into his system is fantastic. The Pacers players go out and play hard night in and night out. They believe in their head coach, just as he believes in their abilities to perform. It is a perfect basketball marriage.

Danny Granger Is on His Way Back

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    The Pacers knew they would be without Danny Granger the moment he took an injection to help his knee. By the time of the NBA All-Star break, Granger should return.

    Before the injury, Granger was arguably the Pacers' best player. He led them in scoring in the last five years prior to this season and he was their go-to scorer during crunch time.

    Granger’s return will add value to the Pacers, either as an addition to the roster or via trade. His career 18.2 PPG helps a team that is 28th (92.7) in the Association in scoring. The problem is, first-time All-Star Paul George is the new face of the Pacers’ franchise, and the question is where does Granger fit?

    Can Granger co-exist with his teammates after being downgraded to the role of second banana? The demotion may motivate him to play at his best in a secondary position, or it will have the opposite result and ruin the team’s chemistry.

    The Pacers only have until February 21 to decide what to do with the player who has spent his entire career in their uniform. If they choose to deal him, they can collect a reasonable reward in the form of a talented shooting guard, one that adds balance to their lineup.

Paul George is the Real Deal

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    Third-year swingman Paul George is developing into a top-20 player, and the league has taken notice. He has added NBA All-Star to his growing resume, putting the Pacers on his coattails at times. George keeps improving his game and appears ready to take the next step.

    Paul George is the 1st of the 2010 Draft class to make an All-Star team, beating John Wall, Evan Turner, DeMarcus Cousins & Greg Monroe.

    — Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) February 8, 2013

    George entered last season with an enhanced jump shot, but he lacked consistency from long range. This year, he is shooting nearly 38 percent from the three-point line, and as a result, he was invited to participate in the NBA Three-Point Shootout.

    The accolades are piling up quickly for @pacers #NBAAllStar @paul_george24 as he joins the Race to the @kia MVP Ladder! ow.ly/hy7WO

    — NBA (@NBA) February 8, 2013

    His improvement goes beyond the spike from behind the arc. George is having a career year in every statistical category except for field-goal percentage. He must be one of the front-runners for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award.

    George’s meteoric rise has given the Pacers the closest thing to a superstar since the Reggie Miller days.

The Pacers Are Strong Up Front

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    When you look at the best teams in the Eastern Conference, it is easy to find flaws.

    The Brooklyn Nets do not have a true backup at the point guard and center position. The New York Knicks rely too heavily on three-point shooting. The Bulls are light one superstar, and the Heat do not have enough size. For the Pacers, their weakness is scoring.

    Unlike their fellow contenders, they have discovered a way to mask their flaw by using their superior size advantage to slow down the pace of a game.

    There is not a team in the NBA that has a 7'2" All-Star center in Roy Hibbert anchoring its defense, except for the Pacers. Add to the mix David West, a former All-Star power forward that is finally healthy after tearing his Achilles two seasons ago and backup big men in Tyler Hansbrough and Ian Mahinmi.

    Each player is physical in the post on both ends of the floor; they give the Pacers an advantage nearly every game. They all bring something different to the table.

    Hibbert is the defender, West does the scoring, Hansbrough brings energy and Mahinmi adds athleticism. No other NBA team boasts that kind of versatility in its frontcourt. All they are missing is one more backup at center just in case any of their frontcourt players land in foul trouble.

    Without adding another backup at center, the Pacers are still a dangerous team, worthy of the distinction as a title contender. They are one of five teams that currently have a legitimate chance at coming out of the Eastern Conference. Their chances improve with every win.