What did they do last year?
Last year, the Frank Vogel’s Indiana Pacers’ played without star shooter Danny Granger and still won 49 games, good enough to win the Central Division of the Eastern Conference. Paul George (17.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 4.1 apg, 1.8 spg) proved to be one of, if not the, premier young star in the game. In the Playoffs, the Pacers beat the Atlanta Hawks and New York Knicks before giving the Miami Heat everything they could handle in the Eastern Conference Finals.
What looks different about the team this year?
The Pacers did not sit around in the off-season and twiddle their thumbs. They knew they had to get better, and they did, at least on paper. Like every team, they lost a few guys, most notably Tyler Hansborough and Gerald Green. But in their and other players’ places, they have added much-needed depth on the bench. Most notably, Luis Scola (12.8 ppg and 6.6 rpg last season for the Phoenix Suns), Chris Copeland (8.7 ppg last year for the New York Knicks), and C.J. Watson (6.8 ppg and 2 apg last season for the Brooklyn Nets) should improve the Pacers competitiveness when starters need a breather.
The Danny Granger update
Unfortunately, the Pacers will have to wait just a little while longer to have their sharpshooter on the floor again. He will miss the first three weeks or so of the season with a minor calf-injury. During the 2011-2012 season, the 6-9 small forward averaged 18.7 points per game on 38% shooting from 3-point range, to go along with five rebounds a contest. He will not need to return to that much production, but even a version of his former self could help the Pacers in 2013-2014.
So far, so good
The Pacers have jumped out to a 5-0 start with wins over the Orlando Magic, the New Orleans Pelicans, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Detroit Pistons and the Chicago Bulls. For most of those games, the Pacers have played without Granger and starting point guard, George Hill. George is averaging 27 points and almost 9 rebounds during those games.
The Miami Heat have eliminated the Pacers from the Playoffs in each of the last two seasons, including last year’s seven-game thriller. Call me crazy or optimistic, but this is the year the Pacers do it. Not win it all, necessarily, but win a playoff series against the Miami Heat and get to the NBA Finals. Of course, before all that, they will have to fend off a very good divisional team in the Chicago Bulls, who will have Derrick Rose back on the floor.