99 percent of basketball fans this season wouldn’t know the Pacers’ record if you gave them three guesses. That’s what happens when Paul George, one of basketball’s great talents, goes down with a freak injury, derailing a perennial contender’s chances before the season starts.
But wait! With Indiana’s 118-86 thrashing of Orlando on Tuesday, the Pacers are 29-34, in sole possession of seventh place in the East. If the season ended today, they would play Cleveland in round one. And with George’s return looming, the feeling exists that Indiana is a sleeping giant in the wide-open conference.
It’s no secret that coach Frank Vogel’s team plays mean defense, and that much was true against Orlando, as they smothered one of the youngest team’s in the NBA — the Magic shot 37 percent from the field and just 4 for 17 on triples. But the question that follows this team around year after year is whether or not they have enough offense. In a season without George and Lance Stephenson, the 2014-15 Pacers were supposed to be completely useless on that end.
Look at Tuesday’s box score: 118 points. 17 3-pointers. 37 assists. Sure, Orlando is one of basketball’s worst teams, but this outing is inspiring. Some of the names we know better than others — Rodney Stuckey (34 points), C.J. Watson (12 points and five assists), Damjan Rudez (17 points on five 3s!!!) — but with a defense as elite as theirs, Indiana doesn’t need to be the 2014 Spurs, and this collection of journeymen and foreign-born talent is frisky to say the least.
Much of Indiana’s success this year can be boiled down to whether or not George Hill is playing. With the starting point guard from its past contenders, Indiana is outscoring opponents by 10.2 points per 100 possessions when Hill is leading their squad, per NBA.com. That includes an offensive rating of 108.2. That’s without Paul George! What will happen when he gets back? The Pacers are 17-7 when Hill plays this season.
You hear that? It’s the Indiana bandwagon. Are you on it or not?