As of this writing, the Indiana Pacers are the only unbeaten team in the NBA with a 5-0 record. While it is still too early in the season, this is a positive step for a team that was only 1 game away from securing a Finals seat in the last playoffs. The Pacers extended defending and eventual champions Miami Heat to a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals before falling short.
The Pacers are not the best offensive team but they are definitely the stingiest. They have been shutting down opposing teams, allowing only 84.4 points per game while scoring an average of 95.4, a whopping 11-point differential. To put things in perspective, the Charlotte Bobcats are the second stingiest team allowing 94.4 points. The Pacers are taking the cliche “defense wins championships” to heart.
Another reason for their early success is the investment they made in the offseason to shore up their bench. Depth was noticeably the team’s biggest weakness last season. That known, president of basketball operations Larry Bird who returned to the team after a one year hiatus acquired guard C.J. Watson, forward Chris Copeland, and power forward Luis Scola. These veterans have eased the burden on the starters even as Indiana currently has two key players (George Hill and Danny Granger) injured.
But perhaps the greatest factor for the Pacers’ streak is the impressive play of superstar forward Paul George. Last season, George played his first All-Star game, was named the Most Improved Player, and joined the All-NBA Third Team and the All-Defensive Second Team. He averaged 17.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists to go with a combined 2.5 steals and blocks. This season, the 23-year old wingman has further improved and is looking like a legit MVP candidate. He is scoring just a shade under 26 points and grabbing over 8 rebounds per game.
It is also good that off-guard Lance Stephenson (16.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg, and 4.6 apg) is becoming a strong second option on the team. He was supposed to be relegated to the bench with the imminent return of Granger but with the latter out, he is showing that he deserves to remain in the starting unit.
The Pacers have a well-balanced team with several players contributing. They have already given notice to other powerhouses including rival Miami Heat that they are strong contenders for the crown.
SIDELINES. The Indiana Pacers have only reached the NBA Finals once since they entered the league in 1976. Then head coach Larry Bird led the team to the 2000 Finals only to lose to the Los Angeles Lakers in 6 games.