x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Indiana pick up the pace as the surprise pack in NBA

The league's 'best-kept secret' are ready to make some noise in the play-offs.

Indiana Pacers guard Paul George drives past a Philadelphia 76ers player on Saturday.
Indiana Pacers guard Paul George drives past a Philadelphia 76ers player on Saturday.

The Indiana Pacers: the best NBA team no one has noticed.

Yes, they lack star power and play in a small market. And they specialise in defence and fundamentals, old virtues that lead to success but limited clamour.

There is this: the Pacers have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference, ahead of the more heralded play-off teams in Boston and Orlando and New York.

And they are playing their best basketball at the right time: their April record of 11-2 was the best in the league, up to Sunday.

"I tell people all the time we're the best-kept secret," the centre Roy Hibbert told NBA.com.

"People don't have to talk about us. We're fine going about our business.

"People who play against us know what's coming. The media, that's fine; they'll find out, too, eventually."

Indiana's best player is probably Danny Granger, who is averaging a fairly modest 18.2 points per game, his lowest total in six seasons.

But he is just one of six Pacers whose scoring average is in double figures, and two more Pacers are above 9.0 points per game. Their depth in numbers is such that whoever is having a good night is on the floor at the end of games.

The old-school blend of teamwork and maximum effort is working.

The Pacers have recent victories over the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder, and their 19 road victories is one of the highest totals in the league.

"Me talking about believing how good we can be, it's no longer a sell job," Frank Vogel, the Pacers coach, said.

"I'm not trying to persuade guys that we can be great. They believe it and it's just a matter of going out and having fun and raising the level of play every time you're out there."

Few suggest that the Pacers are ready to defeat Chicago or Miami in the play-offs, but observers should at least recognise the Pacers as a club far more imposing that the guys who went 37-45 last season.

They have a strong front court with David West, Granger and Hibbert. They have nimble point guards in Darren Collison and George Hill, and a rising player in Paul George and instant offence from the Brazilian shooter Leando Barbosa.

They have talent and play together. Egos, apparently, are smaller in Indiana, who seem likely to open the play-offs by beating Orlando, who have lost Dwight Howard to back surgery.

"I think teams in the NBA know what we're capable of," Granger said.

"Maybe everybody in the sports world doesn't, but I'm sure if we win a play-off series, make noise in the play-offs, we'll get a lot more recognition."

 

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