Almost halfway through the season, it is pretty clear who the best team in the NBA is right now.
The Indiana Pacers hold the best record at 33-7 and are putting the rest of the league on notice.
It all starts with rising star Paul George who is proving he is the entire package. He is engaged on both ends of the court and has a similar style to Charles Barkley. The mentality of “you can’t stop me on offense and I am going to shut you down on defense” makes him one of the NBA’s truly all-round athletes.
By Luke Hoffman – @lhoff526
He may be a huge part of what makes the Pacers so impressive but the success of this team is not based on one individual. Frank Vogel’s team is packed with guys who have bought into their respective roles and the whole unit is benefiting.
That brings us to the front court of this team where David West and Roy Hibbert act as the heart and soul. West has taken on the leadership role with a vocal style in the locker room. On the other hand, Hibbert is a man on a mission. As soon as Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals ended last year, Hibbert hit the gym HARD. He is committed to becoming the best center in the game and making his lane the toughest place to score in the NBA.
Hibbert and West really set the tone in the painted area and let their presence be known immediately. Contrastingly, the Heat have little to no inside presence and struggle when up against sides like the Pacers. So how will they cope this season? If Indiana wants to make the next step and take down Miami in a best of seven it all starts with Hibbert and West and they seem more determined than ever to make it happen.
The Pacers have arguably the best role player in the NBA this season in Lance Stephenson. This is a guy who has had a troubled past and there was a point that his NBA career was in serious jeopardy. Luckily, the 23-year-old is in a great spot with leaders around him and a talented coach steering the ship.
Surrounded by guys such as West, Hibbert, George, Danny Granger and Vogel, Stephenson’s numbers are way up this year. He is playing 35.4 minutes a game, averaging 13.9 points, 5.2 assists (leads team), 6.8 rebounds and is shooting almost 50 per cent from the field per game (career numbers: 24.6 minutes, 8.0 points, 2.9 assists, 3.8 rebounds, and 46 per cent from the field per game).
Stephenson also leads the NBA this year in triple-doubles which is a testament to his turn around because he had never recorded a triple-double in his career until this year and he currently leads the NBA with three this year.
Another thing the Pacers did in the offseason following Game 7 of the Easter Conference Finals was pad their bench. They signed Luis Scola from Phoenix, who compliments David West well. He is a power forward who can really stretch the defense with his 15 to 18 foot jumper. Scola comes in and will keep defenses honest and get you eight to 12 points a game on close to 50% shooting while West gets his rest on the bench.
Danny Granger may be a well-known name but he’s been happy to perform well off the bench this season. He was once the Pacers star but since the emergence of George, coupled with some injuries, that no longer is the case. So far this season, their former key man has appeared in 15 games and is averaging just under 23 minutes, 8.9 points and 3.6 rebounds per game.
Add in backup point guard CJ Watson and backup center Ian Mahinmi and you have yourself a very solid bench which is supporting the starters well.
The thing that the Pacers most desperately want, and will do whatever it takes to get, is the number 1 overall seed in the East and home court advantage throughout the playoffs. The Pacers truly feel if last year’s Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals was played in Indiana instead of Miami the result might have been different.
They have every reason to believe this with a 21-1 home record.
Indiana is all-in and invested in getting to the next step, taking down the Heat and competing for an NBA title.