I'm not sure if they're the third-best team in the East, but that's what their record says so thus far. There's no questioning that the Pacers have maintained a consistent, suffocating defense this season while their best player for the past five seasons—Danny Granger—is still sitting on the sideline.
But rarely have we ever seen a team win a championship while ranking in the bottom 10 of offensive efficiency (per Hollinger's Team Stats). In fact, the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons championship team actually ranked 19th in offensive efficiency in the league, but only registered a rating of 85.0.
With Granger's return right around the corner, he will undoubtedly boost the Pacers offense, just like he did last year.
So how far can this Pacers team go in the playoffs? This slideshow will break down some of the opponents who they might face during playoff time.
The Atlanta Hawks are leading the season series 2-1 so far, but don't be fooled. All three games were tightly contested, and a playoff series between these two dominant defensive teams would be a slug-fest.
Two of the wins from the Hawks came early in the season when they were red hot, and the third game was a high-scoring affair with the Pacers connecting on 11 three-pointers.
If the playoffs started today, these two teams would be matched up, with neither team having a clear-cut advantage. The Pacers have an advantage on the wing with superior athletes like Paul George and Lance Stephenson, but the Hawks have two versatile big men defenders who can halt the Pacers' offense in the paint or on the wing.
David West has been playing out of his mind lately and is a more consistent offensive player than Josh Smith, but Smith is still a rugged defender and tough cover, so this would probably be the most important matchup in the whole series.
If West can find a way to pound Smith in the post and get easy buckets, the Pacers should be in good shape.
At the 5, Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia are both undersized against the 7'2" Roy Hibbert. At times, Hibbert was ineffective and disappeared in the playoffs last season, but he cannot pull that off this year. He should be demanding the ball in the paint, and protecting the rim by contesting every dribble penetration or layup that comes his way.
The addition of Granger—assuming he'll be back—will provide another floor spacer for Hibbert and West to operate down low.
If everyone plays up to their usual standards, and Hibbert imposes his will on the Hawks' interior defense, the Pacers shouldn't have much trouble taking them down.
This playoff matchup would be very interesting. The Milwaukee Bucks have two of the most explosive backcourt scorers in the league who aren't known for their defense, but the team is ranked ninth in defensive efficiency and just 24th in offensive efficiency.
It might have something to do with the fact that their two leading scorers—Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings—are both hovering around 40 percent shooting from the field.
In one of the Pacers' losses this season, Jennings went crazy and scored 34 points on 13-for-22 shooting.
Naturally, I would say that the Pacers hold almost every advantage over the Bucks. They have the perimeter defense to shut down the Bucks' backcourt and they have the big bodies to clog the paint.
But, the only thing stopping Ellis and Jennings from being superstars is their inefficiency. They both have the ability to go for 40 points on any given night, and the best defense in the world cannot stop them.
If either Ellis or Jennings has an otherworldly performance, then there is a good chance that they can knock off the Pacers in the playoffs. However, it's difficult seeing them have incredible performances in every game of a seven-game series. If the Pacers can keep them around their averages, they should be fine.
According to Team Rankings, the Knicks are first in the league in three-point rate, as they take a staggering 35.2 percent of their shots from beyond the arc. On the other hand, the Pacers are ranked first in defending the three-point shot.
If the Pacers can contain the Knicks' perimeter players and slow down Anthony, they should be good to go. But that's much easier said than done.
Anthony would provide a huge matchup problem for the Pacers. David West will probably be defending him most of the time, but he's not accustomed to going out on the perimeter to contest Anthony's shots. Paul George has the length and quickness to guard Anthony off the dribble, but he will still have problems slowing him down in the post.
On the other hand, nobody on the Knicks has the athleticism and wingspan to successfully stop George. He would pose a matchup nightmare for every Knicks perimeter player, and his finishing ability at the rim can draw Tyson Chandler into foul trouble.
The key for the Pacers in this series would be contesting every three-point shot that the Knicks take. They won't stop Anthony, but if they can slow him down and limit the Knicks' perimeter jumpers, they have a decent chance of taking them down.
This playoff series will feature two of the more prominent big men in the league, and focus on an inside-out style of offense.
West and Brook Lopez are two of the best post-up big men in the league, and I can see their respective teams going to them in the paint quite often.
Hibbert isn't having his best offensive season, but he's still a defensive powerhouse in the paint. He may not be able to stop Lopez, but he can certainly make it tough on him. Lopez is the best offensive big man in the game right now, and his knack for drawing fouls could pose some problems for the Georgetown center.
Each team's backcourt is pretty evenly matched, but the Nets clearly have more star power. Deron Williams and Joe Johnson have been having mediocre seasons, but they are still All-Star caliber players.
Paul George is a great defender and probably a better player at this stage of his career than Johnson is now, but Johnson is still an elite shooting guard. Furthermore, the rest of the Pacers' backcourt players are all undersized compared to Johnson, so it's even more important that George stays out of foul trouble.
If the Pacers can contain the shooting and playmaking of Williams and Johnson, they can knock off the Brooklyn Nets in the playoffs. This would probably be an evenly matched series, and it will come down to how each team's respective All-Stars perform.
Two years ago, a Rose-led Chicago Bulls team battled the eighth-seeded Pacers in a very competitive series. However, this Pacers team is much more balanced and well-equipped than it was before.
If Rose returns and plays at an MVP level or even better, then I can't see the Pacers being able to win a seven-game series.
They defeated the Bulls in two regular-season matchups so far, but that shouldn't mean much in the playoffs.
Nonetheless, this series would be a defensive battle. The difference between the two teams is that the Bulls (will) have a superstar who is able to create a shot, make a play or draw a foul at any time he wants, so it gives them the edge in this series.
George is on his way to becoming a superstar, but he's not there yet. He has all the tools necessary to blossom into a great player in the future, so the Pacers vs. Bulls rivalry will be extremely exciting to watch in future years.
Unlike the Bulls' scenario with Rose, the Boston Celtics know that they won't have their best player when the playoffs begin—if they can even make them this year.
In a turn of events, the Celtics have actually won six in a row since All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo went down with his ACL injury.
But, a team can't just lose its superstar and expect to play at the same level as before. That's the scary part.
Nobody knows how this Rondo-less Celtics team will mold out when the playoffs arrive. Rondo was the focus of the team, but now they're winning games with ball movement and good plays instead of relying on Rondo's star qualities.
I won't write out the Celtics just yet, but it does seem like the Pacers will have the advantage in the playoffs. Nobody has the length and quickness to guard George, while West and Hibbert will pound the Celtics on the glass.
Kevin Garnett is still a premier interior defender, but he cannot guard both West and Hibbert while trying to snatch rebounds at the same time. The Celtics will probably add more frontcourt depth before the trade deadline, but right now the Pacers have the clear advantage over them.
The Pacers are third in the league in total rebounds per game, while the Heat are dead last. West, Hibbert and Ian Mahinmi off the bench are three big bodies that will punish the Heat in the paint and on the glass.
On the other hand, James is a difficult cover for anybody in the league. George and West will probably spend the most time guarding James, but they can only slow him down.
In order for the Pacers to win this series, they must get easy points from offensive rebound putbacks and move the ball closer to the basket. As mentioned earlier, the Pacers are the best team in the league in defending the three-point shot.
If the Pacers can slow down James and eliminate the three-point shooters on the Heat, they have a very good shot at overthrowing the defending champions.