Danny Granger's absence for essentially all of 2012-13 has redefined expectations for the Indiana Pacers.
Believe it or not, this overall process has only strengthened the core of this squad. They now enter the playoffs with expectations even higher than when they had Granger last season.
With Granger missing, Paul George has embraced a featured role with this franchise. This opportunity has accelerated George's development into an All-Star and a proven threat on both ends of the floor. He filled up the stat sheet by averaging 17.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.8 steals per game.
Quite frankly, George's emergence has made it such that they haven't really missed Granger. George is more than capable of shouldering the "alpha dog" role.
George isn't the only player who has emerged this season, though. David West has quietly had a superb year, tallying 17.7 PPG and 7.7 RPG. He is one of the most underrated players in the league, rarely mentioned when elite power forwards are discussed.
Indiana then possesses a slew of players who are stalwarts on the defensive end, namely Roy Hibbert and George Hill. Their overall defensive tenacity has been their foundation. Coach Frank Vogel coached this team to the second overall rating in points allowed per game (just 90.7).
Overall, they've redefined their expectations without Granger by collectively maturing and fulfilling new roles.
This has featured numerous players stepping to the forefront and embracing newfound niches (Lance Stephenson is a prime example).
In every player's case, this has involved adopting a gritty nature on the defensive end, and their overall adaptations and chemistry have proved productive. It truly has been a collective effort.
Prior to the season, their expectations sans Granger likely decreased. They wouldn't have inferred this, but the overall consensus was that Granger is their leader, and they'll struggle against the league's best without him.
Well, they won their division and secured the third seed for the second straight season, so they managed to perform at about the same level while also watching specific players grow in maturity.
Most importantly, they now enter the playoffs with higher expectations than 2011-12.
Last year, they were ousted in six games by the star-studded and eventual champion Miami Heat. This series instilled confidence within them that they'll only benefit from in this postseason.
Plus, they have a favorable route to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they haven't been since 2000.
Their opening round situates them against the Atlanta Hawks (a team lacking in quality guard play) and their second round series will most likely draw the second-seeded New York Knicks. While the Knicks are fearsome on the offensive end, the Pacers certainly have the upper hand defensively.
And defense is typically what wins in the playoffs.
Therefore, Indiana's expectations should include a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. This would eclipse what they accomplished last year and prove that they've genuinely overcome Granger's absence.
What's more, their expectations shouldn't end by merely reaching the Eastern Conference Finals. While it's a stretch to say they'll knock off the Heat, they can most definitely give them a quality six- or seven-game series. This was evidenced in the 2012 playoffs, and it has continued during this campaign (Pacers won two out of three in the regular season).
With this in view, the Pacers should expect an Eastern Conference Finals bout with Miami that is nothing short of competitive and feisty. They have redefined their expectations so successfully without Granger that they should anticipate an ever greater ride this postseason.
Perhaps they will even pull the shocker of the 2013 playoffs and dethrone the defending champions in a gruesome seven-game series.
With the development of George, their defensive prowess and the coaching intellect of Vogel, nothing should come as a surprise with this Pacers bunch. They have the ingredients of a championship-caliber team and are capable of making a deep playoff push.
Indiana is a great example of how a well-coached, collectively-driven team can overcome an injury to a marquee player. They have done this so fluidly that they've not only redefined their playoff expectations, they've increased them.
This should result in an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals, and maybe their glory won't stop there.