Prior to the season, there was a tidal wave of buzz concerning the rebirth of the Eastern Conference. While at least some of that positivity centered on the potential for improved depth (whoops), most of the attention was paid to three teams at the top in the Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers. Since then, the Milwaukee Bucks have emerged as a team with the apparent bonafides to make a legitimate run and, as such, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Mike Budenholzer and company have grabbed plenty of headlines in their own right. However, there is a fifth team in the mix and it is beyond time to discuss the Indiana Pacers.
Indiana was one of the better stories a season ago, winning 48 games in surprising fashion. While everyone projected the Pacers to make a return trip to the playoffs, most of that seemingly stemmed from a lack of options in the conference and, in general, very few pointed to Indiana when it came to posing a real threat to the playoff party. Then, Nate McMillan’s team got off to a semi-shaky start, posting a 13-10 record and generally appearing to replicate the mild success from the previous campaign.
Since then, though, the Pacers have been absolutely lights-out and proving a point on the way. With a win over the suddenly improved Atlanta Hawks on New Year’s Eve, Indiana has won 12 of 14 games and, in the team’s two losses over that span, controversial officiating played a significant part in the final result. As such, there is a realistic world in which the Pacers could be riding a 14-game winning streak and, even with those two losses on the ledger, Indiana sports a league-best +10.8 net rating over that time frame.
In fact, the Pacers will enter 2019 with one of the best net ratings (+6.4) in the NBA over the full season and nothing appears fluky about the performance. Big man Myles Turner did suffer a broken nose in the team’s most recent contest but, with that aside, Indiana’s roster has been largely in tact and an elite defense sets the table for a high baseline of success. Throw in the individual brilliance of Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis and others and you have quite a force in the East.
The Pacers don’t have the talent of teams like Boston and even Philadelphia in some respects but, provided their defense remains at this big-time level, Indiana isn’t going anywhere and they are a force to be reckon with as the calendar flips.
Where does Indiana stack up in our DIME power rankings this week? Well, you won’t have to wait long to find out.