Just what are the immediate hurdles the Indiana Pacers will face this season?
In spite of Danny Granger's impending return and the additions of Chris Copeland, Luis Scola and C.J. Watson, the Pacers have several hurdles they must overcome.
The defending champions Miami Heat, for one.
You can be sure this will not be the only impediment to Indiana's quest for its first-ever NBA title. A short overview ought to give Pacers fans an idea of what to expect in 2013-14.
If there's one team that is primed to overcome any obstacle in its way, it's your Indiana Pacers.
Hurdle No. 1: The Miami Heat
The Heat have remained relatively quiet during the offseason. Aside from making sure Mario Chalmers and Chris "Birdman" Andersen (a huge thorn in the Pacers' side) are still on board, the biggest splash Miami made was signing injury-riddled Greg Oden.
While the Pacers made some headlines overhauling its then-inept bench, the Heat chose to retain its nucleus.
It took Michael Jordan several attempts to get past the Detroit Pistons in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The Indiana Pacers, so far, are 0-2 against the Miami Heat during consecutive postseason showdowns in 2012 and 2013.
Let's hope the third time's the charm in 2014.
Hurdle No. 2: Early-Season Schedule Concerns
The Pacers will play two games in October and 14 games in November.
Only five of those will be against contending teams—they will play the Bulls twice and also tangle with the Knicks, Nets and Memphis Grizzlies.
Sounds easy? Nope. If you check the team's 2013-14 schedule, five of Indiana's 20 back-to-backs are in November. The Pacers will play in four during the first three weeks of the season.
Here's where good offseason conditioning and team chemistry come in. This is a crucial stretch for the Pacers. They must seize control in the early going and not allow themselves to fall into a 7-8 hole during November like they did last year.
A five-game West Coast road trip in early December presents another looming schedule hurdle. Five early back-to-backs coupled with an early five-game swing can make any lesser team fold.
Fortunately, the Pacers are a deeper squad this year. Relying too much on their starters is a thing of the past. They are now poised to overcome these two early-season challenges.
Hurdle No. 3: Chris Copeland and Luis Scola's Defense
It's plain and clear Chris Copeland and Luis Scola were signed mainly to pick up the slack in terms of bench scoring.
However, their defensive prowess is a concern for a team that ranked second overall in points allowed last season. Both of them are considered mediocre defenders at best.
The good news is that Copeland is only in his second NBA year, though he is already 29, so there still might be a little room for improvement.
On the other hand, the 33-year-old Scola is entering his seventh season and is already on his downward spiral, but he can still definitely contribute offensively.
The value of a great rim protector such as Hibbert cannot be understated. Should Copeland's man get by him, Hibbert should be there to at least alter the shot.
Hurdle No. 4: Lance Stephenson's Consistency
Forget about the issue of whether to start or bench Danny Granger.
Indiana should have either scenario covered. The bigger concern is Stephenson's consistency. Give him plenty of credit; the player known as "Born Ready" made a loud statement in 2012-13.
We were happy to witness the evolution of Good Lance, particularly in Game 6 against the Knicks in the above video.
However, Pacers fans were also given a dose of Bad Lance—that side of him which put up questionable shots and made errant passes.
Despite this fact, the good thing about him is he tries to make his presence felt in other areas (most notably his exceptional rebounding) if he can't get it going offensively.
Given Stephenson's age (23), we should also give him the benefit of the doubt. But if he's ready to take an even bigger step toward stardom in the NBA, he has to keep his Bad Lance tendencies in check from here on out.
If Lance Stephenson becomes a more consistent performer, the Pacers should soar to even greater heights.
The Final Say
The Indiana Pacers plugged some holes during the offseason, but will it be enough to overcome some immediate hurdles?
These Pacers were too reliant on their starters last year. Now, with more depth, these issues of overcoming the Miami Heat, playing in a number of early back-to-back games as well as dealing with Copeland and Scola's weaknesses on defense should be all atoned for.
Regarding Stephenson's maturity, this is an issue that is all on him. But with his showing last year, the Indiana faithful can expect more of the same and even better things ahead.
All in all, expect the Indiana Pacers to rise above these issues in what should be another exciting title bid.