Apr 13, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (21) reacts after dunking against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana defeats Oklahoma City 102-97. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Head Coach: Frank Vogel
Regular Season Team MVP: Paul George
First Round Opponent: Atlanta Hawks (38-44)
Regular Season Series vs Atlanta Hawks: 2-2
The 2013-2014 Indiana Pacers built upon their growth last season with an impressive, maybe even surprising, start to the regular season. They jumped out to an early lead in the league-wide standings with a 25-5 spurt to hit the ground running. Guard/Forward Paul George established himself as a superstar player on both ends of the ball, increasing both his scoring and his steals per game stats. Not only does the scoring generally fall on George’s shoulders, he also checks the other team’s best wing player every night. His play got the attention of coaches and fans everywhere as he was selected as an All Star starter for the first time, for which he was more than deserving. But to put all of Indiana’s success on George would completely discredit his teammates.
Lance Stephenson also had a breakout season and was on the verge of an All Star selection. His game is the Bonnie to George’s Clyde. Stephenson is enough of a spark to provide offensive support to George, relieve some of the pressure with his ability to run the offense, and can play with the second unit to keep the pressure on the opposing team’s second unit.
Additionally, it’d be utter blasphemy to discuss the Pacers’ success without attributing it mostly to their stellar team defense. They were second in the league in points per game allowed and seventh in point differential. In addition, they led the league in lowest opponent field goal percentage.
The Pacers are a rough and tough, defense first team and that style of play carried them through the entire season (minus about a week or two) at number one in the Eastern Conference.
Strengths: The Pacers are a well coached team, thanks to Frank Vogel, that play a defense first brand of basketball. They have front court depth, which has been proven over the years to be a priceless asset come playoff time. Only the LeBron James Miami Heat in recent memory have pulled off a championship victory without a dominant post presence. The Pacers also have a solid “on-paper” bench that, if they mesh together, can hold their own long enough to give the starters significant rest. While they haven’t quite found the rhythm yet, this brief amount of time off and the first round of the playoffs should provide ample enough time to finally form a homogenous nucleus.
Weaknesses: While the Pacers have dominated the Eastern Conference this season, they’re far from perfect. Their offense is slow to start up at times, and if Roy Hibbert is minimized, his presence can get in the way more than it helps. The Pacers are also one of the slower teams in the league; They’re in the bottom five in fastbreak points per game and 26th in forced turnovers a game. They’ll really need to pressure and push the ball in the postseason.
Playoff Ceiling: Prior to the season, during the season, and still to this day, Indiana is expected and anticipated to face off against the two time defending champion Miami Heat again in the Eastern Conference Finals. It’ll be no easy as Toronto and Chicago want to prove that they belong in the conversation. I predict as the experts and internet gurus predict: Indiana will face Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals and will use the homecourt advantage to their advantage and once again challenge the best of the West in the NBA Finals.