MANILA, Philippines – Yet again, the Indiana Pacers have established themselves as one of the powerhouse teams of the NBA’s Eastern Conference.
As recent history shows, whenever a Pacers star burns out of the franchise, another almost immediately steps up to fill the gaps.
Jermaine O’Neal, Ron Artest, Danny Granger and Paul George are just some of the big names who have held the fort in succession since the departure of Hall of Famer Reggie Miller.
However, one thing has not changed since the Miller Time era of the ‘90s in Indiana. They are good, maybe even great, but always not good enough.
That theme has continued with the present-day Pacers, but make no mistake, their future is brighter than it has ever been.
For yet another year, the Pacers are bound to compete but possibly come up short in the season restart at Disney World Orlando due to the non-participation of rising franchise star Victor Oladipo.
Like fellow East stars such as Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, the former All-Star is set to sit out the remainder of the season not due to the virus, but injury rehab. He now joins sixth man teammate Jeremy Lamb on the injury list.
In just 13 appearances since coming back from a ruptured right knee quad tendon, Oladipo looked expectedly rusty, averaging just 13.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3 assists on a 39% clip – all career-low numbers.
His lengthy absence, however, was a blessing in disguise for his former Oklahoma City Thunder teammate Domantas Sabonis, who got selected to his first All-Star game this year after erupting with norms of 18.5 points, 12.4 rebounds and 5 assists on 54% shooting.
Along with the son of the European legend Arvydas Sabonis, former Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon has also flourished in his first season away from the Milwaukee Bucks.
The 6-foot-5 point guard has routinely bullied smaller matchups on his way to averages of 16.3 points and a team-high 7.1 assists.
Lastly, former Phoenix Suns forward TJ Warren and two-way big man Myles Turner round out the talented Pacers core.
Warren has been the team’s second-leading scorer with an 18.7 points per game average while Turner has turned back shot after shot to the tune of 2.2 blocks per game.
When fully healthy, the Pacers are a dark horse contender in a top-heavy Eastern Conference due to their loaded core and steady role players such as sniper Doug McDermott and brothers Justin and Aaron Holiday.
However, the injury bug has been a persistent presence among their ranks that has both benefited and held back the team for the reasons stated above.
The Pacers are still a team to watch out for, obviously, but the top teams are still expected to overcome their firepower with enough effort and consistency.
Remaining schedule: 76ers, Wizards, Magic, Suns, Lakers, Heat, Rockets, Heat
From the looks of things, the playoff-clinched Pacers and their opponents will certainly break a sweat on their way to the postseason.
After a relatively light start with bottom-ranked teams like the Washington Wizards and Phoenix Suns, the Pacers will then go through hell in the form of superstar-laden squads, namely the Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets and a double date with the Miami Heat.
That’s not to say that the Pacers will not give hell back, but their last stretch of opponents are simply a cut above them talent-wise. Their performances against those top dogs will give a glimpse on just how far this banged-up group can go.
Indiana going deep into the playoffs will certainly be a surprise. But Indiana giving opponents mean headaches after every game? That’s already common knowledge.