The National Basketball Association, in my opinion, is in a dark state. Not only is there a lack of parity, but there is a lack of talent across the whole board. It’s a time where King James rules all, and dethroning South Beach feels like an impossible feat to most. It’s a time when most fans are rooting for losses instead of wins in hopes to have a good draft pick in a highly anticipated draft class.
The Indiana Pacers currently are in 1st place in the Eastern Conference, 4.5 games ahead of the Miami Heat. This is a team that was 1 game away from advancing to the NBA finals last year, but fell just short to the reigning champions.
What has occurred over the past couple of years leading up to today has convinced me that the Indiana Pacers will win the NBA championship this year, and these are my 5 points…
#1- The Pacers’ roster. Going into the offseason this team needed to address their bench and try to find more consistent play from their rotation. They were able to add CJ Watson, a point guard who had backed up Deron Williams and Derrick Rose the past couple of years, and Luis Scola via a trade with the Phoenix Suns. While Watson assured a dependable backup to George HIll, Scola added a big body that could come off the bench and score.
(from left to right) George Hill, Paul George, Lance Stephenson, David West, Roy Hibbert)
What has been the biggest improvement to this roster, though, has been the progression of Lance Stephenson and Paul George. A team that is built around defense like Indiana may struggle to find reliable options on the offensive side of the ball, especially when their defense isn’t leading to offense (fast-break points). George has emerged as a dependable offensive option in the half court who can now create his own shot. What Stephenson has done has kept critics from paying attention to Danny Granger and his slow progression back from a season plagued by injuries.
The Pacers to date, compared to the rest of the league, on average hold their opponents to the worst field goal percentage, 3 point percentage, and the least amount of points per game. Defense is the key to winning on the road in the playoffs, and the Pacers are the best in the business.
#2- The Miami Heat. Don’t get me wrong, they are the champions and they have the best player in the universe playing for them, but you can’t ignore numerous issues with this team right now. They aren’t showing up every day, which can be chalked up to the fact they have played a ridiculous amount of basketball the past 3 years (reached the NBA finals every year, along with LeBron playing in the Olympics). The thing is, they have played a ridiculous amount of basketball the past 3 years. They may not be trying their hardest right now, but are they going to be able to turn it on come playoff time?
Also, this team let go of a guy in Mike Miller who was a difference-maker off the bench last year. When guys like Lebron and Wade go cold or need a break from scoring, who is going to step up and carry that load for Miami? Miller did at times last year, so don’t brush it aside that losing him won’t affect them.
#3- The Eastern Conference. Here are the standings for the conference. This has to be some type of joke, right? Only 3 teams, the Pacers, Heat, and Hawks, have records above .500. The Hawks just lost their star center in Al Horford, so it’s only a matter of time until they start to loss more than win. NYC had high hopes for the Knicks and Nets this year, but they can’t seem to get it together and have shown no resemblance to actual title contenders.
It’s a conference full of young teams trying to find an identity, old teams trying to find chemistry, along with tanking teams awaiting the NBA draft. There are 2 teams to take seriously in the Eastern conference, and they are locks to possess the #1 and #2 seed, so assuming no miracles occur, they will meet in the Eastern Conference finals.
#4- The Western Conference- As it stands right now, the Atlanta Hawks would not make the playoffs in the Western Conference. I already gave my take on the Eastern Conference, so I’ll just point out how deep the Western Conference is this year. The top 6 teams right now in the standings (Spurs, Trailblazers, Thunder, Clippers, Rockets, and Warriors) all are considered title contenders this year. That means only the top 2 seeds are going to get a “break” in the first round, while the other 4 teams will get to beat up on each other early. For a team to come out of the west, they are going to have to play a lot of games and play with a lot of intensity. This is a huge disadvantage considering the Heat and Pacers have pretty much locked up a conference finals date.
#5- The versatility of the roster in respect to match-ups. George Hill has become a reliable defender at the point guard position. He is listed at 6’3”, but has a wingspan of 6’9”. The speed and length leads to steals and ability to contest shots from point guards like Steph Curry, Tony Parker, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook. Lance Stephenson can take on guys like James Harden and Dwayne Wade. Paul George has the body and athletic ability to actually defend LeBron James. If he can do that, rest assure you he could defend anyone else (aka Kevin Durant). David West is short for his position but he is one of the most physical players in the post, so guys likes Blake Griffin and Chris Bosh who have a tendency to be perceived as a little soft may get thrown off by his physicality. To round out their starting 5, Roy Hibbert is arguably the best low post defender in the league right now, and guys like Tim Duncan, LeMarcus Aldridge and Dwight Howard will have their hands full trying to create offense with him patrolling the paint.
All things considered, The Indiana Pacers are my pick to win the 2014 NBA Championship.