Eastern Conference Progress Report: Indiana Pacers’ Stock Rising, Knicks Free-Falling

While All Star Weekend was in progress, an innocent, yet open ended question was posed to me. What team in the East, if any, gives me that queazy feeling in my stomach and could best contend with Miami and possibly ruin my #GetTheKing2Ringz campaign? Almost without hesitation, I blurted out Indiana. Speculating playoff scenarios at the end of February is always taken with a grain of salt because so much can and will happen between now and the end of April. Just ask the Knicks and what “Linsanity” did for them nearly a year ago.

Winning streaks end, losing streaks begin and vice versa. So while the Pacers scare the living shit out of me at the moment, who knows? The answer could be completely different come St. Patrick’s Day. The Knicks still have to prove this current funk they’re in is more speed bump than trend (after starting 18-5, they’re currently 14-15, so I guess that is a trend), and even then, the pressure of the playoffs is night and day compared to a prime-time ABC meeting with Miami visiting March 3. That and Carmelo – for as talented and “clutch” as he can be – is still the owner of a rather dubious playoff stigma.

Then there’s Brooklyn who, at this moment, is praying Deron Williams’ ankles make it through the season. If the playoffs started today, their schedule would provide Chicago in the first round and Miami in the second pending hell doesn’t freeze over. Meanwhile, I’m praying a very pregnant Kim Kardashian and Kanye West attend a home Nets playoff game in Brooklyn with Jay-Z and Beyonce.* The likes of which would probably violate every rapper/owner rule in the handbook because it could either cause Kris Humphries to play the game of his life or a stat line so ugly John Starks’ Game 7 of the 1994 Finals would become a model of efficiency.

As far as the Celtics are concerned, they’re cockroaches. I can step on them, empty an entire can of Raid and damn near set a kitchen on fire, but they’ll live. That was a compliment. I swear.

That brings us full circle back to the Indiana Pacers. A team posing problems for three reasons.

1. The size. You know what I’m thankful for? That J.J. Redick did not go to Indiana. The last thing anyone out East needs out of that team is a consistent threat to stretch the floor when most of the attention is paid down low to David West and Roy Hibbert. Plus, the Pacers are first in both points allowed and rebounds per game (only surrendering 89.8 points/game). I think once Miami realized Indy wasn’t getting Redick they shipped Dexter Pittman to Memphis. He was only there to rack up six fouls and judo chop Lance Stephenson in the neck when necessary anyway.

2. The confidence. Nevermind the fact they were up 2-1 on the Heat last year and only lost control of the series when LeBron and D-Wade realized the magnitude of the moment. The Pacers know, at this point, their only competition and the primary source of bad blood in the conference resides in America’s southernmost major city. You don’t think that 34-point curb stomping of the Knicks Wednesday night and 32-point public execution of the Pistons Friday night wasn’t a statement? The whole idea of Indy not being an offensive team capable of putting points on the board was put to rest, too. Since January 15, they’ve scored over 100 points 11 times, winning eight. So the best defensive team in basketball is beginning to have it click offensively as well? Have fun with that.

3. Paul George. Here’s to hoping Danny Granger is okay with not being the number one option anymore. Paul George is more versatile, longer, more disruptive on defense, a budding star altogether and a guy with two first names which has to account for something. Granted, Granger was near this same mold at one point and could be the boost this year’s Pacers need to make a serious run come spring, but PG24 has the “it” factor and has “breakout playoff series” written all over him.

There’s more, but we’re just getting started. As of late February 2013, let’s reiterate, the Pacers are scary good; emphasis on scary. This time next month, the Knicks could morph back into the three point shooting monster and growing defensive pest we saw in the first few months of the season (doubt it). Or Brooklyn could be the twinkle in New York’s eye. Or Chicago if you-know-who returns. Or the Bobcats pending they piece together a 27-game winning streak thus totally flipping the script (sorta-kinda) on MJ’s executive career. In the meantime, though, ooh-and-ahh at this Gerald Green dunk. The NBA couldn’t turn this one down.**

* – For that London stunt, ‘Ye’s going to have to buy two tickets. Just like the old days. In all honesty though, I don’t really think it’s any slight to Jay or Justin. He just didn’t like the song which just happens to be well within his rights. But it is 2013, so yeah.

** – Gerald Green originally intended to dunk over a skateboarding Lil Wayne last Saturday at the dunk contest. This was, of course, when Weezy was neck deep in his personal civil war with the league.

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