Indiana Pacers basketball died on November 19, 2004. No longer were fans enthralled with Reggie Miller’s heroics and the promise of up-and-coming star Jermaine O’Neal.
Instead, a black cloud surrounded the franchise. Pacers basketball became synonymous with ‘the brawl.’ A six-minute melee sent the franchise into a downward spiral that lasted for the better part of a decade. The city of Indianapolis went from basketball-crazed to being enamored with a squeaky-clean quarterback named Peyton.
That was the standard for years. Yet slowly but surely, the tides turned.
Enter Frank Vogel.
It was a move fit for Indiana basketball. The kid from New Jersey who’s never been more than an assistant on the NBA level swoops in to to save the dysfunctional franchise.
Vogel took the franchise from eight games under break-even in 2010-2011 to eighteen games over the next year. The next year saw further improvement, as the team advanced to the conference semifinals.
The roster began to shift. Veteran Jeff Foster was on his way out. Young prospects Lance Stephenson and Roy Hibbert entered the scene while veterans David West and Danny Granger provided leadership.
Leadership? The Pacers hadn’t seen leadership for years. Out with the old, in with the new.
Fans hesitantly wondered if the success was sustainable. Last year’s seven-game series with the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals was a thing made for Hollywood. Doubt was erased.
Indiana basketball was prevalent again.
When the Pacers were ranked the second-best team in the ESPN preseason power rankings this November, fans that had been away for a while undoubtedly did a double-take.
The Pacers? The second-best team in the league?
This year’s squad has lived up to the hype, even with their recent skid. Wednesday night’s win over Miami extended the team’s lead to three games for the top seed in the conference. That’s no fluke.
Anything can happen. But this squad is built to win, and built to win now.
The Pacers are the best defensive team in the league, allowing 91.7 points per game while holding opponents to under 42 percent from the field.
Paul George, who signed a five-year contract extension in September, is averaging a shade under 22 points per game.
Lance Stephenson is a threat to score and crash the boards.
Roy Hibbert provides a formidable threat inside, averaging seven rebounds per game and scoring 11 points per game.
Indiana has a strong supporting cast as well. Former Phoenix Sun Luis Scola provides key minutes off the bench, as do Ian Mahimni and Evan Turner (one only has to look to Wednesday to see Turner’s potential—after Stephenson got ejected, Turner came in and immediately made an impact.)
This Pacers squad is on the precipice of cementing their place in Indiana’s illustrious basketball history. With a championship, especially one involving the defeat of the loathed Miami Heat, they can put to rest the memories of the franchise’s marred past.
There are steps to the process, of course. They can spend the rest of the regular season shoring up the details they need to fix before the playoffs begin. If the season ended today, the Pacers would host the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the postseason. The Pacers likely aren’t shaking with fear looking at that matchup, but no one can be overlooked.
If the script were followed, another matchup between the Heat and Pacers in the conference finals would ensue. Basketball enthusiasts and casual fans alike are greedily anticipating the story lines.
Think about it. The Pacers have gone from a laughingstock to a powerhouse.
Blue Collar, Gold Swagger.