Have Indiana Pacers Quietly Proven Themselves as East's 2nd-Best Team?
The Indiana Pacers made a statement in their 125-91 shellacking of the New York Knicks at home Wednesday night. At the end of the first half, they were up 30 points on the currently second-seeded Knicks.
The Pacers do have some potential issues: Roy Hibbert is not living up to his max contract on the offensive side of the ball, and no one knows how Danny Granger's impending return will affect the team's chemistry, especially with the way Paul George has been playing.
But at 33-21, this defensive-minded team looks awfully dangerous. Even more impressive is the fact that they are now 4-1 against the two top teams in the East.
Indiana was 10-11 on Dec. 9 and was coming off a 104-93 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Fast-forward to Feb. 21, and they're 23-10 since that loss to the Thunder.
For comparison's sake, we can look at the league's top four teams and see similar numbers. The Miami Heat are 22-8 in that stretch, the San Antonio Spurs are 26-8, the Los Angeles Clippers are 24-11 and the Thunder are 22-11.
The Knicks are 16-14.
They are just 11-13 against teams with a winning record. However, 10 of those 11 wins have come in that 33-game stretch in which they seem to have put things together.
As a negative, they are just 3-7 in games decided by three points or fewer (2-3 in overtime) this season. Perhaps that's due to the Pacers' lack a true take-over-the-game type of player. Playoff games do tend to be tight, but their defense has put them in a position where they're used to slow, grind-it-out games.
On his second season of his two-year, $20 million contract, his play has been nothing short of superb. His mid-range game is lethal, and the 32-year-old has put up a healthy 17.2 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.
Pushing them over the top has been All-Star forward Paul George.
He's a do-it-all player who has paired his suffocating defense with much-needed offense for this Pacers team. Without Granger, they needed someone to significantly step up in scoring, and George has certainly done that, averaging 17.8 points per game.
Another "George," George Hill has also played a key role in the Pacers' successful season. He's averaging career highs in points, assists and rebounds, and he's only averaging 1.8 turnovers per game from the point guard position.
As Lance Stephenson, Tyler Hansbrough, Ian Mahinmi, D.J. Augustin and Gerald Green have found their roles throughout the season, the team has just gotten better.
With Frank Vogel leading this gritty, defensively-based team, they have a legitimate claim to being the second-best team in the Eastern Conference.
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