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ProBasketballTalk 2013-14 Preview: Indiana Pacers

Sep 25, 2013, 8:45 AM EDT

Miami Heat v Indiana Pacers - Game Six Getty Images

Last season: The Pacers continued their upward trajectory – missing the playoffs in 2009-10, reaching the first round in 2010-11, reaching the second round in 2011-12 and reaching the conference finals in 2012-13. With George Hill, Lance Stephenson, Paul George, David West and Roy Hibbert, Indiana had statistically the best lineup in the NBA. The Pacers played great defense and good-enough offense, and that got them to a Game 7 against the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. For now, that qualifies as a highly successful season.

Signature highlights from last season:  Forcing a seven-game series with Miami had nothing to do with the Heat overlooking the Pacers. Indiana was just that good and that fearless.

Key player changes: The Pacers’ offseason was all about upgrading their bench. They traded for Luis Scola and signed Chris Copeland and C.J. Watson.

Tyler Hansbrough and D.J. Augustin signed with Toronto, and Gerald Green and Miles Plumlee were traded to get Scola. But if the new bench performs as well as hoped, those players will be just afterthoughts.

Keys to the Pacers’ season:

1) Was last season’s playoff run a fluke? Without doubt, the Pacers deserved to reach Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Indiana played better than its first two postseason opponents, the Hawks and Knicks, and nearly as well as the Heat. But most teams that make it that far have already proven their abilities through sustained excellence during the long regular season.

Indiana had a good regular season, going 49-32, but that still falls well short of the average conference finalist, and perhaps, that indicates the Pacers were playing at their peak form during the playoffs rather than demonstrating a new baseline.

For what it’s worth, none of the last three teams to reach the conference finals without winning 50 games (adjusted for shortened seasons) – the 2012Celtics,2003Nets,2002Celtics – returned to the conference finals the following year.

2) Is David West too old? West is one of the NBA’s most underrated players. Tough and smart, West has been a huge asset to the Pacers both on the court and in the locker room. But he’s 33, an age when many players decline significantly or have already. West’s backup, Luis Scola, is even older. If West takes a step back, that could be a major setback for the Pacers. Nearly as much as their recent All-Stars, Paul George and Roy Hibbert, West is crucial to the Pacers’ success.

3) How well will Paul George and Danny Granger play together? They say they’ll be fine, and they very well could be. But this is really tough to project, because George is like a superhero who just discovered his powers. Until George learns how to stop clumsily shooting spider webs all over the place and when not to show up the local jocks by outrunning their car, there’s little use trying to gel with Granger. Once George stops evolving at a rapid pace, then maybe he can find chemistry with Granger.

For the Pacers, their wish here is a balancing act. They want George to get a lot better  (and he’s already at a high level), even if that means George’s game continuously takes different shapes, but they still want him and Granger to have time to mesh.

Why you should watch the Pacers: This is a team with legitimate title aspirations. The Pacers’ defense is already at a championship level, but their offense must catch up. It seems they have enough pieces to build a better offense, but it’s just a matter of figuring out how the puzzle fits together. Frank Vogel is a good coach, and his tinkering will be intriguing.

Prediction: 54-28. Until they indicate otherwise, the Heat belong atop any Eastern Conference projections. After that, take your pick between the Pacers, Nets and Bulls. The growth of Paul George and the reliability of David West and the bench will determine whether Indiana returns to the conference finals or falls short in a tougher Eastern Conference.

  1. dysraw1 - Sep 25, 2013 at 9:59 AM

    its funny because all through their history as a knick fan ive never hated the Pacers,i came close when Reg. did the choke sign, after ringing up 25 points in a 4th quarter explosion. but generally i just thought of the Pacers as a hard working rag tag team. however this Pacer team is not rag tag, because several players are becoming elite. yes Hibbert, and George are both rising stars, who have only just begun to tap into their strengths. an then theres young Lance who manhandle the Knicks. if there is such a thing as a team to fear its these guys

    • stayhigh_247 - Sep 25, 2013 at 11:45 PM

      for who to fear? your Knicks or do you mean everyone in the East? This is a fun team and I like watching them but Chicago and Brooklyn aren’t going to roll over for them.

      • dysraw1 - Sep 26, 2013 at 6:36 AM

        i mean every card carrying member of the league should strap their boots xtra tight

  2. ethanm24 - Sep 25, 2013 at 12:14 PM

    The Pacers will represent the east in the finals. You heard it here first, cause I haven’t anyone else predict that.
    If they hadn’t blown game 1 and had granger been healthy then who knows what would’ve happened.
    This year they added two very good players that very well could be starters with other teams in scola and copeland, and granger is coming back.
    Pacers in 6 over heat

  3. hungryhungryhibbert - Sep 25, 2013 at 1:03 PM

    Indianapolis is building two dynasty’s .. Not one, but TWO! Go Horse, Go Pacers! Built not bought!

    • stlouis1baseball - Sep 25, 2013 at 1:24 PM

      You know that’s right Roy!

      BLUE. COLLAR.

  4. antistratfordian - Sep 25, 2013 at 4:02 PM

    “The Pacers continued their upward trajectory – missing the playoffs in 2009-10, reaching the first round in 2010-11, reaching the second round in 2011-12 and reaching the conference finals in 2012-13.”

    About their so-called “upward trajectory”… I believe the Pacers were actually a better team in 2011-12 than they were in 2012-13.

    2012 Pacers – 42 wins – .636 win % – 7th ranked offense
    2013 Pacers – 49 wins – .605 win % – 20th ranked offense

    Top 10 defense both years.

    Indiana probably would’ve reached the conference finals in 2011-12 if they didn’t have to play the Miami Heat in the second round. So I don’t think you can say the Pacers improved much (if at all) year-to-year simply because they won 3 games instead of 2 against the Miami Heat.

    In fact, the Pacers had Miami more on the ropes in 2011-12 as they were actually UP 2-1 in that series. In 2012-13 they were always down (0-1, 2-1, 3-2, 4-3). In the most important game of the season they disappeared completely. But vanishing in the elimination game isn’t new for the Pacers against Miami – they lost by 22 in Game 6 in 2011-12 and they lost by 23 in Game 7 in 2012-13.

    The re-introduction of Danny Granger works in Miami’s favor – redirecting shot distribution. So there are no indications that they will fare any better against the Heat in 2013-14.

  5. surly1n1nd1anapol1s - Sep 25, 2013 at 10:04 PM

    I haven’t encountered the level of optimism in town for this team since the preseason of the “brawl” team. Nice write up and the challenges are obvious.

    Even more obvious is the complete lack of Celtics fans posting negative comments about this Pacers club, unlike last season. Who you got Boston? Literally, who do you have on your team?

    • douglasjbender - Sep 27, 2013 at 9:44 AM

      http://www.nba.com/celtics/roster/2013

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