Pacers Legitimate Threat To Win The East?
The Pacers are atop the Central division and have moved into second place in the Eastern Conference. They are playing extremely well with a 7-3 record in their last 10 games and prior to tonight's loss to the Clippers were currently on a 5 game winning streak of their own. Prior to tonight's game, over the last 10 games the Pacers had won by an average margin of 15.2 points per game. In their last 5 wins, they have won by an average margin of 23.8 points per game, which tops the NBA.
To win the Eastern conference all signs point to having to beat the Heat in the playoffs. An obvious area of concern for the Miami Heat is their lack of size at the center position. They have struggled against teams that have solid defensive centers and play strong interior defense. While an area of weakness for the Heat, it is an area of strength for the Pacers. David West and Roy Hibbert provide that strong defensive low post presence that will keep the Heat from getting easy points in the paint and off of the free-throw line. In the two games the Pacers and Heat have faced-off this season, the Pacers have won both by double digits. They have dominated the Heat on the glass, out-rebounding them by an average of 14 rebounds a game, and have held them to under 90 points.
While the only other real contender, the New York Knicks, have looked like a championship caliber team at times early in the season, they have recently backtracked and have shown to lack the consistency and defensive commitment it takes to become NBA Champions. Meanwhile, the Pacers' success this season has been built upon their physical and tough defense. This season they have held their opponents to 89.5 points per game, which is second best in the NBA. Along with Roy Hibbert and David West, the emergence of young talent Paul George, fresh off his first selection to the NBA All-Star team, solid role players and timely scoring from guys like George Hill and Lance Stephenson, and with Danny Granger finally back in the lineup, the Pacers are poised to make a deep playoff run. They will prove to be a very formidable opponent for any team in the playoffs, and that the Heat winning the Eastern Conference is not such a foregone conclusion after all.