This writer earlier predicted Indiana to win 54 games this year. However, with the team winning 11 of its first 12 games as of Nov. 22—something nobody expected—it could very well enjoy its first 60-win season since it went 61-21 in 2003-04.
Aside from Reggie Miller, Jermaine O'Neal and Al Harrington, that was a Pacers unit that had the likes of Anthony Johnson, Jamaal Tinsley, Fred Jones, Scot Pollard, Jamison Brewer and Jonathan Bender.
And of course, the former Ron Artest, Metta World Peace.
Expectations were riding high on that squad. Unfortunately, it fell in six games to the eventual NBA champions that year, the Detroit Pistons.
The 2013-14 Indiana Pacers are also hoping to meet high expectations. However, with more talent from top to bottom, this team has clearly shown at this point that it can duplicate—if not exceed—its predecessors from ten seasons ago.
|Indiana Pacers Defense: A Comparison|
|Season||Record||Pts. Against||Opp. FG Pct.||Average Margin of Victory|
|2013-14 (as of Nov. 19)||9-1||86.3||.398||9.4|
In 2013-14, nobody is playing better defense than the Indiana Pacers.
On Nov. 19, Pacers.com's Mark Montieth wrote a comprehensive, two-part series entitled Pacers Hoping to Maintain Historic Defense.
In Part I, Montieth shows how the Pacers are faring compared to previous Indiana teams in terms of defense. As the table above clearly shows, the 2013-14 unit is currently lording it over its 1997-98 and 2003-04 predecessors in terms of opponent field-goal percentage and point differential.
Not surprisingly, the team is off to its best start ever.
Make no mistake about it, this Pacers defense is one of the best the NBA has seen in recent memory. As good as some past Indiana teams were defensively, they relied on excellent coaching from gurus such as the late Dick Harter.
Players such as Mark Jackson, Reggie Miller and Rik Smits were not known to intimidate opponents on the defensive end, but with Harter in the fold, their shortcomings on defense were dealt with accordingly.
The Pacers of 2013-14 feature physical and premiere defenders in Paul George and Roy Hibbert. As was stated in Part II of Montieth's feature, David West (best communicator on defense) and George Hill (great pick-and-roll defender) make good use of their individual skills in the Pacers' overall defensive scheme of things.
With the way they clamp down on the opposition, the Indiana Pacers are primed not only to win 60 games or more, they are also in a position to be the first team since the Detroit Pistons of the late '80s to win an NBA title and be immediately associated with the word "defense" by fans and NBA experts alike.
Paul George: Indy's Franchise Player
At the expense of sounding like a broken record, it still bears repeating: Franchise player Paul George is one of the main reasons why the Indiana Pacers are championship contenders.
Take it from Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, who spoke with the Indianapolis Star's Zak Keefer after the game:
All it takes is confidence in this league. And I think with George, that's what he has right now, and it's growing day by day, game by game, and you can see that when he's out on the court.
Like this writer said in his Nov. 15 piece, George, just like any NBA superstar, will have off nights. And sure enough, he had one a 12-point debacle on 3-of-14 shooting against the Chicago Bulls on Nov. 16.
You can be sure that won't be his last.
However, like what Melo said, Paul George's confidence is definitely there. He wouldn't be the NBA's current fifth-leading scorer if it wasn't.
With this, George also told Keefer about his take-charge attitude down the stretch. He said,"I'm going to be more aggressive. I'm more confident with myself. I had to learn myself."
In 11 of Indy's 12 wins as of Nov. 22, George scored at least 21 points.
With the way things are going, a confident Paul George should help the Indiana Pacers win at least 60 games in 2013-14.
A Renewed Swagger and Edge
ESPN analyst Avery Johnson, who won a championship with the San Antonio Spurs in 1999 and NBA Coach of the Year honors with the Dallas Mavericks in 2006, discussed the Indiana Pacers' swagger in a Nov. 20 interview with the Indianapolis Star's Candace Buckner:
The Pacers this year are playing with swagger and an edge and a mental toughness. They're hungry. They're a team that understands they were knocking on the door clearly last year, it could have been different if they had home-court advantage.
So they understand that home-court advantage throughout the playoffs matter. They're just so much more experienced.
I just see a bunch of guys who are hungry to win a championship and understand that the start of the season, it matters just as much.
This simply means Indiana will do everything it could to seize and earn home-court advantage in the postseason. They have done progressively well in the playoffs since 2011, so their experience coupled with a smothering defense definitely spells bad news for the rest of the NBA.
Wrapping Things Up
The Indiana Pacers were picked by many NBA experts to be the second or third seed in the Eastern Conference, a notch or two lower than the defending champions Miami Heat.
However, with an 11-1 record, Indy is on pace to prove all of its naysayers and detractors wrong. The team is in a position which it hasn't been in since 2003-04—win at least 60 games in a season.
This certainly seems to be within reach, mainly because of the Pacers' stellar defense, franchise player Paul George and the team's renewed swagger and edge.
Winning at least 60 games is a worthy achievement, but in the end, this is an Indiana team that is dead-set on looking beyond this gaudy win total and focus on the bigger task at hand—winning the NBA title.