5 Teams Most Likely to End the Indiana Pacers' Perfect Season
With all due respect to the defending champion Miami Heat, the Indiana Pacers look like an early-season juggernaut in the Eastern Conference. Not only are the Pacers the NBA's only remaining undefeated team at 5-0, but all of the other Eastern Conference contenders have at least two losses to date.
Following an opening week packed with easy wins over lesser competition, the Pacers stepped up in weight class against their division rivals, the Chicago Bulls. But even Chicago failed to put up much of a fight, and the Pacers cruised to a 97-80 victory on Wednesday.
The Pacers have been led this year by Paul George, Lance Stephenson and Roy Hibbert, who have all taken major strides since losing in Game 7 of last year's Eastern Conference Finals.
Unfortunately for Pacer fans, their team is bound to lose eventually—probably in this month, even. As good as they appear right now, the Pacers were a sub-.500 team on the road last year and have yet to face a real road test.
With that in mind, let's break down the five teams most likely to end Pacers perfection.
Saturday, Nov. 9: At Brooklyn Nets
The much-hyped Brooklyn Nets have struggled a bit so far, losing on the road to Cleveland and Orlando. Those two losses to younger, more athletic teams could mean that Brooklyn's geriatric roster will struggle against the younger Pacers.
Still, this is a talented, veteran team, and the Nets will be by far the Pacers' toughest road test to date. Brooklyn has the size and depth to match Indy. The ever-combustible Stephenson will need to keep his emotions in check whenever he drives the lane against Kevin Garnett, who has a knack for getting under an opponent's skin.
If this game were in Indy, the Pacers would be a clear favorite, but the Nets have already shown themselves to be a tough out in Brooklyn by beating the Heat handily last week.
Odds of beating Indy: 3-2
Monday, Nov. 11: Vs. Memphis Grizzlies
The Memphis Grizzlies have struggled. They are 2-3 on the season, and their defensive efficiency is a surprising 25th in the NBA. But when a pair of old-school, slowdown teams like Memphis and Indy tangle in the paint, anything can happen.
In the night's marquee matchup, Roy Hibbert will get a chance to test his mettle against the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Marc Gasol. If Hibbert wants to get that hardware this season, a sterling defensive performance against Gasol and the Grizzlies would be a step in the right direction.
If the Grizzlies were firing on all cylinders, this might be a more compelling challenge. But Memphis is struggling to adapt to a new coach and system, and it shouldn't provide much of a challenge to Indy at home.
Odds of beating Indy: 8-1
Saturday, Nov. 16: At Chicago Bulls
The Pacers didn't have much trouble with the Bulls on Wednesday, but Chicago will have two factors in its favor for this game.
First, the game will be in Chicago—making it a better test of the Pacers' development. If the Pacers want to be taken seriously as a title contender, they will have to win a few of these big-time road tests.
Second, Derrick Rose will have more games to get back into form. He has struggled terribly thus far—he has more turnovers than assists in every game this year—but his problems seem more to do with rust than a lack of athleticism. With each passing game, Rose and the Bulls will become more dangerous.
Odds of beating Indy: 2-1
Wednesday, Nov. 20: At New York Knicks
Yes, the Pacers beat the New York Knicks in last season's Eastern Conference Semifinals, but this game will be at MSG, where the Knicks won four of five games against the Pacers last season.
The loss of Tyson Chandler—who will be out four to six weeks with a fractured leg—all but ruins the Knicks' chances in this game. But New York still has offensive depth, and the Knicks came within five minutes of forcing a Game 7 against Indiana last spring, even with subpar performances from Chandler and Carmelo Anthony.
All that being said, the Knicks franchise is currently a mess from top to bottom. Look for Indiana to cruise to a win.
Odds of beating Indy: 9-1
Monday, Nov. 25: Vs. Minnesota Timberwolves
The Wolves have impressed so far. They have a 3-2 record and a blowout of the Oklahoma City Thunder already on their resume.
Kevin Love has looked like an MVP candidate, averaging 26.2 points and 11.0 rebounds per game, and he heads one of the few frontcourts in the league that might be able to play with Indy's. Point guard Ricky Rubio has been a steals machine, with 3.4 swipes per game, and he could exploit the Pacers' biggest weakness: a lack of ball-handling.
But the Pacers will be playing this game at home, where they have been virtually invincible. The smart money says the Pacers' first loss will come on the road.
Odds of beating Indy: 6-1