Coach Jim O'Brien Sets Challenge; Pacers Look Towards Playoffs

Dylan MaloneContributor IOctober 23, 2009

BOSTON - FEBRUARY 27:  Head coach Jim O'Brien of the Indiana Pacers reacts to a call against one of his players in the fourth quarter against the Boston Celtics on February 27, 2009 at TD Banknorth Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.The Celtics defeated the Pacers 104-99. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

The Indiana Pacers have been virtually invisible this off-season from a media standpoint.  It seems the only people giving them any hope for a playoff run this season live in the state of Indiana, but with some off-season moves and a great draft, the Pacers look to shock the NBA with a playoff birth.

Let's face it. With Shaq joining the Cavs and KG back and healthy from his knee injury, the two powerhouses will be atop the East standings once again.  The Pacers are still licking their wounds ever since the brawl in Detroit in the '04-'05 season, while posting no more than 36 wins in the last three seasons.

In fact, with the Pacers enter into their 34th year of existing in the NBA, they have only 11 winning seasons to boast about, four of them were a mere three games above .500.

That's enough depressing statistics I think.  Now the good news.

The new and improved Pacers squad is stacked deep with young talent.  Dahntay Jones is a great defensive stopper, which will greatly help the Pacers who allowed 106 points per game last season.  

First round pick Tyler Hansbrough is out with an injury, but is now practicing with the team.  When healthy, he will bring a spark off the bench the second he gets on the floor, much like Chris "The Birdman" Andersen does for Denver.

Earl Watson will not be the scoring threat that Jarrett Jack was, but will add another great piece to the Pacer's fast break game.  He will also be a reliable back-up for T.J. Ford.  Also look for them to share the court often as well, much the same as Ford did with Jack last season.

Roy Hibbert and Brandon Rush are coming off their rookie seasons very optimistic.  Both have had great pre-seasons thus far, especially Hibbert, who has averaged nearly 14 points a game as well as 3.6 blocks in six games.  If Hibbert becomes more aggressive this season defensively, the Pacers will be a much bigger defensive threat than last year.

Coach Jim O'Brien will have a problem this year that he has not had in years past.  If Diener, Foster, and Dunleavy can get healthy soon, O'Brien will have to decide between twelve legitimately good players who are jockeying for playing time.

I get the feeling I'm missing a few pieces of the puzzle here...oh yes!  Now I remember.  Rising star, Danny Granger will try to repeat last year's all-star performance as the Pacers' leading scoring threat.  If his numbers progress this year like they have in his first four seasons, Granger will be on pace to score 30+ points a contest (not likely, but still fun to speculate).

My prediction: Pacers make the playoffs, ending a three-year slide.  They become the sixth seed ending with a 45-37 record.