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Paul George: Cavaliers are Eastern Conference favorites

Aug 1, 2014, 11:20 AM EDT

Indiana Pacers v Miami Heat - Game 3 Getty Images

The Heat have won the last four Eastern Conference titles, making them the first team with four consecutive conference crowns since the Celtics (1984-87).

But with LeBron James headed back to Cleveland, the Heat are no longer Finals favorites.

Who in the East is?

How about last year’s No. 1 seed and conference finalist? Couldn’t the Pacers just slide up one slot to frontrunner status?

Indiana star forward Paul George, via Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

“With Lance being gone and everyone thinking this is going to be a rebuilding year for us,” Paul George said during Team USA training camp this week, “immediately when LeBron went to Cleveland, that made them the front-runners.”

But the Pacers, with a strong core led by George still in place, are certainly not rebuilding, right?

“People do look at it that way,” George insisted, perhaps even trying to sell it. “I’ve got a lot of pressure and I’m coming into this year and I’m ready to live up to that pressure.”

George isn’t wrong. I’d take LeBron’s Cavaliers – and the Bulls with a healthy Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol coming on board – over Indiana. The Heat, Raptors, Wizards and Hornets – who stole Lance Stephenson, one of the Pacers’ top players – might belong higher in the pecking order, too. Without Stephenson, Indiana is not the same team.

But I don’t think George is interested in an accurate assessment.

The Pacers started 33-7 last season, overtaking Miami as conference favorites in the process. Then, under the weight of expectations, Indiana collapsed. The Pacers, plagued by in-fighting and finger-pointing, clearly weren’t ready for the spotlight.

George, correctly, believes Indiana performs better when viewed as the underdog. So, he’ll say what he can to help the team achieve that status.

Thankfully for him, LeBron remaining in the East all but guaranteed he won’t have to stretch too hard. Unless LeBron signed with Indiana, Milwaukee or Philadelphia, Indiana had minimal shot of being viewed as Eastern Conference favorites.

  1. ProBasketballPundit - Aug 1, 2014 at 11:33 AM

    All I know is the Cavaliers just went 82-0 in 2K14. (With a roster update of course)

    championship.

    • bougin89 - Aug 1, 2014 at 11:40 AM

      *Lebron coast to coast* signature skill is unstoppable. If Lebron gets a defensive rebound it’s basically automatically two or three points on the other end. It’s almost too easy playing with him on 2K.

  2. phillycannon - Aug 1, 2014 at 11:36 AM

    Paul George is a pr nightmare. Monday he will say….well the writer twisted what he actually said. Talented ball player….but not too smart when it comes to a mic, in front of his face(pause).

    • bball242322 - Aug 1, 2014 at 4:20 PM

      Did he say something wrong here?

    • muhangis - Aug 1, 2014 at 11:02 PM

      What did the guy say wrong? Anyone with common sense knows he’s completely correct.

      • phillycannon - Aug 6, 2014 at 3:19 PM

        You dont let anyone EVER know what cards your holding. I dont care if I have the crappiest team in the league, you dont say that a team is better than yours. And to make it worse, this Cavs team played 0 games with Lebron. So to call them better….you got to be a little off in the head.

  3. balsagna - Aug 1, 2014 at 11:37 AM

    I was so happy to dust off my 2k14 after the roster changes…. So much fun being a Cavs fan right now.

  4. bougin89 - Aug 1, 2014 at 11:51 AM

    The Pacers need to get back to playing with fire. Off the top of my head I can’t recall a team playing so well and then playing so drastically up and down(mainly down) by the end of the season.

    One game Hibbert looks like the Hibbert from the past 2 seasons playing excellent defense and chipping in his 13 points and 8 rebounds, the next game he goes for 0 and 0 and looks completely uninterested.

    One game George looks like a budding superstar, the next game he looks very average especially offensively.

  5. Mr. Wright 212 - Aug 1, 2014 at 11:52 AM

    Funny. I see them falling back to 4th in the division and could miss the playoffs altogether. Lance gave them that edge that allowed them to win so many more games. They are going to miss him a lot more than they think, while George won’t have so many open lanes as he did the first half of last year.

    • bball242322 - Aug 1, 2014 at 4:29 PM

      3 years ago, Pacers took a 2nd round exit to the Heat. They were an up and coming team then, Lance hardly ever touched the floor, PG was very young and raw, and Granger was injured, and they still made it to the 2nd round. Now 2 years in a row of being conference finalists, with the same core intact minus a very solid player, ppl want to try and knock the #1 seed Pacers out of the playoffs

      Pacers will absolutely make the playoffs. They still have a great D intact, PG has drastically improved every year (no reason that should stop especially being a starter on Team USA now), Still have a solid coach the players believe in, they dumped their chemistry problem in Lance, Hibby can’t possibly be any worse than he was last season, DWest is a year older yes, but also a year wiser, this team has gone through extreme scrutiny and adversity. All of these factors will make them a stronger and they can get back to good solid team ball.

      Don’t be so quick to count out the Pacers

      • muhangis - Aug 1, 2014 at 11:04 PM

        It’s just not enough. It seems that George is the only legitimate force now on that team.

      • muhangis - Aug 1, 2014 at 11:13 PM

        And that team two yrs ago you spoke of: Actually had youth and more speed on their side. In addition, Granger was not injured – he played 62 games that year & the entire playoffs. They also had Tyler Hansbrough (in his prime), Darren Collison starting, Amundson’s best year, and Leandro Barbosa off the bench.

        …Personally, I would take that lineup over last years lineup. Last year’s lineup and Vogel’s game strategy simply matured.

  6. 1friendofthepeople - Aug 1, 2014 at 11:53 AM

    I’m looking forward to seeing what this season’s Miami Heat team can do after being written off since LBJ left. These guys can play without LBJ the and having everyone else more directly involved and not just watching LBJ hold the rock.

    Bosh, Wade, Deng, are all capable of performing like All-stars. With Chalmers you have a solid point guard that played poorly in the finals. McRoberts provides them with more talent an can play a stretchh 4 and then Granger at worst is a great locker room guy and a rotation player. He was said to have been the best locker room guy on the Pacer’s and his leaving coincided with the locker room issues with the Pacers had in the second half of the season.

    Its very possible the Heat are the #3 team In the east and they could avoid having to playing the Bulls AND the Cavs in the playoffs.

    I think the Bulls are far and way the best team when healthy but the Heat can make things interesting if they are lucky enough to avoid Chicago.

    • 1friendofthepeople - Aug 1, 2014 at 12:08 PM

      I should say that I DON’T expect this to happen but either the Heat or Bobcats are under the radar and can make it to the Eastern Conference finals without a miracle.

      History says its going to be difficult for a team to like the Cavs to be title contenders but given LBJ’s adaptability I still think its a Bulls vs Cavs ECF, but its fun to imagine how chaotic things could get in a conference with so many teams having multiple changes to their respective starting lineups from a year ago.

      • ProBasketballPundit - Aug 1, 2014 at 12:45 PM

        I believe in my Hornets; that if things break right they could make a run to the ECF this season. But PBT ranked them 19th in the league. So I guess I can’t nay-say your hope for the LeBron-less Miami Heat. Who knows? East is wide open.

    • antistratfordian - Aug 1, 2014 at 12:49 PM

      I don’t think Deng was ever capable of performing like an All-Star. He was capable of being overrated and overpaid.

      Riley sold the Heat to McBob and Granger by telling them that LeBron was coming back, so I don’t know how much of a locker room boost Granger is going to be under those circumstances. He’s probably already looking at other teams for next season.

      I think the best team when healthy is going to be the one with LeBron and Irving on it. If Love shows up, then it’s curtains in the East.

    • muhangis - Aug 1, 2014 at 11:20 PM

      Yeah Granger’s locker room presence will do it all for the Heat next year!!! Amazing how in-depth you went there, smh

      And what about the Heat’s bench??? They got two easy bench players Chalmers and McRoberts starting for them.

  7. Mr. Wright 212 - Aug 1, 2014 at 11:53 AM

    This is why you can’t get through most people on here, they have 2K on the brain, not logic and reality.

  8. doctordunkenstein - Aug 1, 2014 at 12:10 PM

    Maybe because he knows his Pacer team can’t handle the pressure of being the top seed in the East. They couldn’t even win 40 games last year without feeling entitled and losing their edge halfway through the year. PG talking like every team gave them their best shot last year…SMH you guys haven’t won anything at all. Teams don’t get up playing the top seed in the East for 2 months…they get up for playing the defending champs

    • antistratfordian - Aug 1, 2014 at 12:51 PM

      The result was the same for the Pacers whether they were the favorites or the underdogs. This idea that they’re better either one way or the other is misplaced, I think – they seem to be pretty much the same either way.

    • bball242322 - Aug 1, 2014 at 4:35 PM

      HUH? Coming from a competitive athlete, EVERY team wants to beat the current #1 team in the standings. No matter how long it’s been. That’s just how it is

  9. rosloe62 - Aug 1, 2014 at 12:20 PM

    Bulls
    Cavs
    Wizards
    Pacers

    • sonnysuave - Aug 1, 2014 at 1:48 PM

      Pacers will make the playoffs… but not sure they make top 4. Have a feeling Raptors & Bobcats will surprise some people.

      • muhangis - Aug 1, 2014 at 11:23 PM

        No doubt the Bobcats will surprise. Nets have a chance in top 4.

  10. seasickcecil - Aug 1, 2014 at 12:52 PM

    I’m going to need to see what the Cavs roster is heading in to the season before I make a prediction.

    • muhangis - Aug 1, 2014 at 11:24 PM

      People are predicting the Cavs based on what they are now.

  11. johnc44 - Aug 1, 2014 at 1:21 PM

    I love hearing how the Pacers are going to fall apart & Charlotte is now a favorite all because of Lance.When exactly did he become so overrated?No NBA GM was willing to give him more than 9 mill a year even though Channing Frickin Frye can get 8 but somehow he`s this great difference maker.Apparently you guys only noticed good Lance and ignored the pouting,selfish,immature,locker room cancer Lance.Charlotte will find out soon enough but i`m so glad Indy didn`t give him a huge franchise wrecking 5 year deal that most “fans” seem to think he deserved.

    • sportsfan18 - Aug 1, 2014 at 1:43 PM

      my two cents says the Pacers season will most likely be made or broken by their start

      they’ll be gung ho and psyched up to get off to a good start and show folks they can win etc…

      if they get unlucky, a few bad breaks or just play badly off the bat, I could it see it snowballing on them

    • sonnysuave - Aug 1, 2014 at 1:56 PM

      Lance led the league in triple-doubles. Huge accomplishment, with over 400 talented players in the league. He has skills. I’m not a fan of his… but it’s obvious he’s just a confident, intense, competitive guy, trying to get an edge any way he can. With the crazy media attention his antics have gotten him & his salary dropping in value… I’m sure he’s learned his lesson.

  12. sonnysuave - Aug 1, 2014 at 1:57 PM

    It’s not a surprise to hear PG say Cavs are the favorites. He did previously mention before he’s wanted Lebron to mentor him.

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