The Indiana Pacers by far have played the best basketball of the season since tipping off in late October. They finished the month of November with only one loss. However, if you were to look at their schedule, their current record of 18-3 should not be surprising at all. The Pacers saw a schedule in October and November, which consisted of teams that many would call “cupcakes”.
Every team they played in October and November currently are teams that are at or below .500. Therefore, all their wins in those months were against teams at or under .500.
So are the Pacers for real?
Well, if you could not tell before, you will know the answer to this question just by watching these first two weeks of December.
As of right now, the Pacers passed their test for this past week (1st week of December). During this span, they matched up with the Los Angeles Clippers, Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz, San Antonio Spurs, and visited Oklahoma City tonight to take on the Thunder. This was a 5-game road trip where the Pacers went 3-2.
They played a great game against the Clippers as they built a lead as big as 14 and got a big offensive rebound off a missed free throw to escape with the win in LA. They dominated the offensive boards, especially late in this game. Their first loss on the road trip was to the Blazers in a game in which Paul George poured in 43 points. Portland is the surprise team so far this year as they have a current record at 17-4.
The most impressive victory of the road trip was against Tim Duncan and the Spurs. The Pacers looked like the best team on the floor that night and dominated the defending Western Conference champs. The Thunder dominated the Pacers to end the road trip as the Pacers never really were in the game.
The next stretch does not get any easier for the Pacers. The Pacers match up with their hated rivals from South Beach twice and the Houston Rockets over the next 10 days. After going through this brutal week, I think this is the week the Pacers have ultimately been looking forward to. It was obvious that during the Eastern Conference Finals last year that the Pacers were fearless against the Miami Heat. Better said, the Pacers really believed they should have been the representative in the Finals for the East.
This team holds a lot of pride. They believe they are the team to beat in the East. At this point in the season, I can only agree. When I watch the Pacers play, I see a team. They are a team that ultimately just seems to mesh on both ends of the floor. They understand and trust in their leaders of Roy Hibbert and Paul George. Everyone plays their role and they play it well. As of right now, you might not find a team that plays and works harder than the Pacers. Their intensity takes the air literally out of the opposing team night in and night out.
Improvement is the word so far that defines the Pacers individually. Paul George is taking his leap into being one of the best players in this league. Hibbert also continues to take strides. Lance Stephenson has seen the biggest improvements in his play. Stephenson came in from Cincinnati as a head case that loved to play isolation basketball. This year, the Pacers have seen a completely different side of Stephenson. He has recorded two triple-doubles already this year and continues to play with an immense amount of energy. His numbers have increased in all major categories and even leads the team in assists.
The Pacers of course have been led by the emergence of Paul George. George currently sits at fourth in NBA in scoring. He has led his team in scoring in 15 out of 20 games. One of the positives in George’s game is that he scores with efficiency, can shoot the ball well from behind the arc and off the dribble, and can get to the rim whenever he wants due to his freakish athletic ability. Additionally, he can score but does so unselfishly. He not only leads his team on the offensive end, but also does his share of work as the best perimeter defender for his team. Roy Hibbert continues to be the anchor behind this stingy defense. He is 2nd in the league in blocks.
The Pacers are at their best when they are dominating the paint on both ends. Getting the ball inside to David West and Roy Hibbert is imperative if the Pacers want to see the Finals. The size of the Pacers is the one thing that sets them apart, even from the Heat. Paul George can give his best of efforts but the Pacers will not be successful if they don’t work inside-out.
This is an impressive start by the Pacers but it would be more impressive to see them end this month with only 2 losses.
Predictions: Seeing that the Pacers matchup with the Heat is at home on Tuesday and they are 9-0 at home, I think it is safe to say they will come out and try to make a statement against the defending champs and get a win. Just to add fuel to the fire, I doubt the Pacers lose after being ran off the floor tonight by the Thunder. The Houston game will be a test but once again will be in Indiana making this a winnable game. Their next loss will come in Miami on the 18th. After these test, “cupcake season” is back in affect for the Pacers to round out the month of December.