The Indiana Pacers were there. Forty-eight minutes away from reaching their first NBA Finals series since 2000, Indiana had put up a fight unlike any other team had vs. the defending and eventual champion Miami Heat. Six physical games, a series all tied up at three a piece and the emergence of Paul George as a potential superstar all led up to that Game 7.
The Pacers were blanked. Indiana fell to the Heat, and their season was over. Reflecting back on last season, many Pacers fans are left wondering—is this team really that good? Or was that a late playoff push that we may not see again.
The answer is simple—this Indiana Pacers team is for real. Although, for the first three months of the 2013-14 NBA regular season, they may not show it.
This Pacers team has a history of poor starts to open the regular season. Indiana stumbled out of the gates in 2012, going 10-11 through their first 21 games. In 2011, 17-12 through their first 29. And in 2010, they fell below .500 in their 22nd game, and were never quite able to make it back above. Point here being that though they've improved slightly, the Pacers are not a quick winner out of the gate.
So Pacers fan need to brace themselves for the onslaught of disappointment that may arise when this team struggles early. It's all part of the process. This team will struggle to find their chemistry early on, with the unknown role of Danny Granger combined with newcomers in Chris Copeland and Luis Scola.
But this Indiana Pacers team will be the same team we saw last year. Toward the all-star break and forward, this team will become a force in the Eastern Conference. And once again, Indiana will challenge Miami for the Eastern Conference Championship.
I predicted last year that Indiana would win the Eastern Conference, and many laughed. Said I was off my rocker. Turned out I was 48 minutes shy of being right. The road gets a little tougher this year with the return of Derrick Rose combined with the acquisitions that the Brooklyn Nets have made, but I think the Pacers are still the second best team in the East this season.
Additions of Luis Scola and Chris Copeland were huge for this team. Scola, a solid upgrade over former Pacers forward Tyler Hansbrough, provides that much needed big man coming off the bench, just as he did Tuesday night vs the Atlanta Hawks. Scola provided 20 points in only 18 minutes on the floor, production that head coach Frank Vogel had nothing but high praise for.
The return of Danny Granger, should he stay healthy, also provides a much needed scoring boost for Indiana. But the Pacers proved last season that they were really only one or two decent pieces away from achieving that next step. And I think they've got what it takes this year to take that final step.
Prediction: Indiana Pacers, 59-32, Eastern Conference Champions