What Indiana Pacers Must Do Between Now and Start of NBA Playoffs

Poch de la RosaContributor IIIFebruary 28, 2014

Lance Stephenson, Evan Turner and George Hill of the Indiana Pacers.
Lance Stephenson, Evan Turner and George Hill of the Indiana Pacers.Ron Hoskins/Getty Images

Just what must the Indiana Pacers do between now and the start of the NBA playoffs? 

Getting over Danny Granger, for one. 

On a more serious note, Indy's bench is a far cry from what it was a season ago. With Larry Bird's Midas touch, a Pacers team which was one win away from the NBA Finals in 2012-13 has now become even more formidable. 

A franchise player by the name of Paul George

A versatile and potential 2014 Most Improved Player award winner in Lance Stephenson.

The Great Wall of Hibbert.

A second unit that now boasts of the likes of Luis Scola, Evan Turner, C.J. Watson and Andrew Bynum.

This Indiana team is poised to win it all.

Yes, Indy is an NBA-best 44-13 through Feb. 28. However, the Pacers must do several things between now and the start of the postseason to further establish themselves as the team to be reckoned with.  


Get Evan Turner Involved in the Offense

Nobody would have thought the Pacers would have somebody such as Evan Turnerthe second overall selection of the 2010 NBA draftcome off the bench to add a much-needed scoring punch. 

If his 13-point performance on 6-of-12 shooting in a 118-98 drubbing of the Los Angeles Lakers on Feb. 25 is any indication, Turner should be a valuable contributor for Indy.

His addition could not come at a better time. 

In the Pacers' three losses in February, their bench got outscored 91-60. 

What's more disturbing is two of those three losses were to teams with a combined win-loss record of 45-71: The Orlando Magic and Minnesota Timberwolves

Luis Scola, who has shot just 37 percent in February, was part of the reason why Indiana's bench struggled in those outings. During that span, he shot a putrid 2-of-13 from the floor. 

Turner should help offset Indy's bench woes. 

On Feb. 20, Pacers.com's Mark Montieth sized up his addition to the team:

Turner shoots better from the field (43 percent) than Granger, but worse from three-point range (29 percent). He's an inch shorter (6'7"), but a more flexible athlete who can score in a wider variety of ways, and at five years younger has fewer miles on his legs. He's also regarded as superior in pick-and-roll-situations. 

If Turner can somehow make the city of Indianapolis get over Granger inasmuch as Andrew Luck did when the Indianapolis Colts released Peyton Manning, just call Larry Bird a genius. 


Turn Andrew Bynum Into an Asset

Since leaving the Los Angeles Lakers in 2012, Andrew Bynum isn't what he used to be. In fact, he's been labeled as a distraction, and to a more extreme degree, a cancer, in recent years. 

His fragile knees aren't helping matters, either. 

However, the Indiana Pacers have a golden opportunity to resuscitate his once-promising career and win a title with him in tow. 

Difficult? Yes. Impossible? No. 

The need for Bynum to raise his game once more is necessitated by the fact that Roy Hibbert, just like Scola, has struggled offensively.   

Prior to his 24-point outburst against the Milwaukee Bucks on Feb. 27, Hibbert was averaging just 8.5 points per game on 43.5 percent shooting. Ian Mahinmi has became more of a factor in recent weeks, but he's not the scorer Bynum is capable of becoming once again. 

For his part, Pacers.com's Wheat Hotchkiss weighed in on the matter on Feb. 26:  

If Mahinmi keeps playing his game like he has in the past month, Bynum's place in the rotation is far from assured.

Having three capable centers is the rarest of luxuries in the NBA, and Pacers coach Frank Vogel will gladly take the headaches of figuring out how to deal with too much depth over with how to deal with too little.  

Hotchkiss' colleague, Scott Agness, spoke with Indiana's head coach Frank Vogel two weeks ago. Vogel said Bynum's return is "very open-ended."   

If all this waiting will produce a healthy and rejuvenated Bynum who can contribute 15 to 20 solid minutes per game and help dethrone the Miami Heat in the playoffs, then it will be all worth it. 


Stop Losing to Teams They Should Not Lose to 

It's hard to fathom the Indiana Pacers as legitimate championship contenders if they lose to the likes of the Detroit Pistons, Atlanta Hawks, Denver Nuggets, Orlando Magic and Minnesota Timberwolvesteams with a combined 120-168 (.417) win-loss record through Feb. 27.

But they have

It doesn't matter if four of those losses were on the road. This trend must stop immediately. The Pacers have too much talent to allow lesser teams to beat them. 

Too much is at stake. Too much work has been done behind the scenes to assemble a team this good.

One fatal regular-season loss could mean relinquishing home-court advantage to the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals if the Pacers slip to No. 2 in the East. 

Indiana must simply stop the opposition's star player from taking over. For instance, Josh Smith went off for 30 points in the Detroit loss.  

Victor Oladipo scored 13 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter, helping the Magic overcome a 17-point, third-quarter deficit for a one-point win over Indiana on Feb. 9.

Finally, Kevin Love was, well, Kevin Love when he erupted for 42 points against the Pacers on Feb. 19. 

Simply put, Indiana must assert its dominance from here on out and serve notice it is the team to beat. 


Closing Things Out

With a much deeper and fortified bench, the Indiana Pacers are in an excellent position to widen the gap between themselves and the rest of the NBA.

First, they must get Evan Turner more involved in the flow of the offense. He did just that in his very first game in Pacers blue and gold, and the end result was outstanding.

This has to be done on a more consistent basis to ensure optimum production from the bench, as this will be a factor once the playoffs begin.

Second, Indiana must get the most out of Andrew Bynum. Granted, he hasn't been the way he was while he was still with the Lakers, but he still has the potential to be a very serviceable backup to Roy Hibbert. 

If his knees manage to hold up and he keeps his head in place, the Pacers should be even more set at the center position.

Finally, Indy must stop losing to teams it should not lose to. The Pacers are trying to earn home-court advantage throughout the postseason and it is tantamount to win as many games as possible. 

Larry Bird has done his job. If the Pacers manage to take care of business on the court, then an NBA title should be well within reach.  


Note: Unless otherwise noted, all stats are courtesy of ESPN 


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