The Indiana Pacers simply dominated the New York Knicks on Wednesday night, winning by a score of 125-91. With such a dominating performance, the Pacers are looking like one of the best teams in the NBA.
Many will say that this was just one game, and that it isn't a sign that the Pacers are a truly dominant force in the league.
Those people haven't been watching the Pacers this year.
The Pacers have a record of 33-21, putting them in third in the Eastern Conference standings. However, the win against the Knicks, who are currently in second, brought them to only a half game back from second place.
With the team looking so good, the players and head coach Frank Vogel have to be setting their goals a little higher. They may be 5.5 games back, but the Pacers are aiming for the top seed in the East.
Is this possible? Do the Pacers really have a shot at taking over the East and taking the top spot away from the Miami Heat?
It's not very likely, but it is certainly possible.
With 28 games remaining, the Pacers will have a lot of ground to cover. They will need to beat all of the opponents they are supposed to, and pull out several wins in bigger games.
One of the bigger problems in doing this is the strength of schedule for the remaining games. The Pacers' opponents have a combined winning percentage of 49 percent, while the Heat's opponents are only at 45 percent. The Heat actually have the easiest remaining schedule in the NBA.
"They are a legitimate contender and a they are team to be reckoned with in the East." - Flip Saunders on @sportscenter— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) February 21, 2013
This means that the Pacers will have more games against tougher opponents, which they will need to beat on a fairly consistent basis.
The Pacers have proven that they can beat good teams, thanks to solid defense. The team ranks first in both rebounds and points allowed per game. They allow 89.9 points per game.
Yes, they allow fewer than 90 points on average against NBA teams.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, the Pacers have three of the best players in the league in terms of defensive rating. Roy Hibbert (95.9) ranks second, Paul George (96.3) ranks third and David West (98.1) ranks eighth.
The biggest issue with the Pacers has been their lack of offense. The team averages 93.4 points per game, putting them at 27th in the league in that category.
Thankfully, Danny Granger is likely to return soon. No official game has been set for his return, but he will be a big boost to this team.
Granger will likely come off of the bench to start off, but that will still mean some more scoring on the team. Granger was the Pacers' leading scorer on the Pacers last year, and he will find ways to score. The combination of Granger and George will be a big lift to this low-scoring team.
The Pacers are playing some of the best basketball as a team. They are one of the few teams in the NBA that are capable of playing well without a true dominant star player on the team. On Wednesday night, 10 players scored at least seven points. Each player knows their role, and they are all executing very well.
Where will the Pacers finish in the East?
With all of this being said, the Heat are still a very dominant team. Although they have lost both meetings against the Pacers, they have still dominated other teams. LeBron James is arguably having the best season of his career and will likely be the league's MVP once again at the end of the year.
The Heat are also on an eight-game winning streak. It's currently the best streak in the league, and they are looking like the can't lose. The Big Three are all playing exceptionally well, as well as the role players like Ray Allen and Shane Battier.
Overall, the Pacers have a chance at taking the top seed, but it would take a very good run by the team and a bad stretch of games by the Heat. Miami is simply playing too well right now and will most likely take the first seed.
However, the Pacers are still in very good shape to at least take the second seed. They are only half of a game back, and the Knicks looked pretty shaky.
If the Pacers can take the second seed and make it to the conference finals, expect an epic clash between them and the Heat. The Pacers would like nothing more than to make an appearance in the NBA Finals, and it would be even sweeter to topple the Heat along the way.