HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Is it time again to think of the Indiana Pacers as one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference?
The Pacers were supposed to be one of a few teams competing for the second spot in the East. Coming off a 42-24 season and a competitive series with the Miami Heat in the conference semifinals, Indiana looked like the team that could take advantage of Derrick Rose‘s absence, win their division, and possibly get one round further.
Then Danny Granger was lost for four months, Roy Hibbert couldn’t make a shot, and the Pacers had a lot of trouble putting points on the board. They started the season 3-6 and looked anything like a playoff team, let alone a top-four seed.
But slowly, the Pacers have turned around their season. After Friday’s 97-91 win over the Phoenix Suns, they’ve won seven of their last eight games. They’re 17-12, a game ahead of both the Milwaukee Bucks and Chicago Bulls for first place in the Central Division and fourth place in the East.
First and foremost, the Pacers are winning with defense. They lead the league in defensive efficiency, allowing just 95.9 points per 100 possessions. Over the last eight games, they’ve allowed just 91.3.
Offensively, the Pacers are still pretty poor. But they’re getting enough on that end to put together some wins. And the key to the turnaround has been consistency from third-year forward Paul George.
On Dec. 1, George scored zero points in 29 minutes, shooting 0-for-7 from the field. Since then, George has scored in double-figures in 12 straight games. He’s shooting better and getting to the line more.
Paul George’s scoring
|Through Dec. 1||17||85||221||38.5%||33||90||36.7%||45.9%||0.149||48.6%||14.0|
|Since Dec. 4||12||89||189||47.1%||26||63||41.3%||54.0%||0.249||57.9%||19.3|
EFG% = (FGM + (0.5*3PM)) / FGA
TS% = PTS / (2 * (FGA + (0.44*FTA)))
FTA Rate = FTA / FGA
The Pacers are still playing some ugly basketball, ranking 19th offensively in December. And their bench is still pretty awful. While their starting lineup is a plus-87 in December, all other lineups are a minus-28.
Furthermore, while the Pacers have a couple of quality wins (on the road against the Lakers and Bulls), they’ve played the easiest schedule in the league thus far. None of the seven wins over the last 17 days have come against a team with a winning record.
Things start to get tougher starting Saturday, when they visit the 18-9 Hawks. But the Pacers know that they have a defense that can keep them competitive every night and an offense that is slightly more reliable than it was earlier in the season. It may not be pretty, but it’s keeping them near the top of the East thus far.