The debate of who will be the kings of the Eastern Conference has had a familiar outcome in recent years. But with Cleveland out of the picture since LeBron James left the Cavaliers, Toronto, Boston, Philadelphia and Milwaukee are battling to pick up the Eastern crown. However, there’s another team that should be alongside the giants: Indiana Pacers.
A team that wasn’t considered to be in the battle for home-court advantage, over the month of December, the Pacers boasted the best record in the league with 13-3, which included a seven-game win streak. Coach Nate McMillan has guided his team to the third seed in the east with its 25-12 overall winning record.
Having faced off against 13 teams from the east, Indiana has beaten 12 of them for a 19-5 result against conference rivals, which is not matched by any other NBA team.
The starters have been a key factor to the team’s success. All-Star guard Victor Oladipo averaged 17 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals despite missing five games through injury. Croatian forward Bojan Bogdanovic came up big with his own contribution of 17, 4 and 2.
Center Myles Turner returned to form despite his struggles at the start of the year, leading the team in rebounds with 9 and also in blocks with 3. Turner has regularly added 16 points while having the hot hand from deep with his ability to sink the odd three, shooting 50%.
Thad Young is another solid piece in the starting five with 15 points, 7 rebounds and 2 assists, along with his 1.5 steals. Darren Collison was in the driving seat at point guard and his numbers of 10, 4 and 7 saw him lead the team in assists just ahead of Oladipo.From the bench, 6-11 forward Domantas Sabonis continued to show he’s becoming a valuable asset with a very healthy 14, 9, and 2.
Between the mentioned players they all combined for a total of 20 double-doubles with Turner leading the way with 7.
During a recent win versus Atlanta, despite allowing 121 points, the Pacers tallied their second most points in a game for the season, 129. Season highs didn’t stop there, with 35 assists and 83 points created from those.
Atlanta might be the worst team in the East but Indy’s blow out win against division and playoff rivals Detroit in the following game further shows that this team is to be taken seriously. Led by Sabonis’ league-leading 15th double-double by a reserve player, the team shot a red-hot 60% from the field while restricting the Pistons to just 37%.
Looking ahead, Indiana kicks off the new year with a five-game road trip facing two teams above .500 and three below. Toronto and Boston will be the biggest test of that trip, and while they lost to the Raptors recently, Indy will take courage in the fact that they know how to beat the Celtics.
“We Grow Basketball Here” hasn’t been more relevant than right now, and McMillan deserves a tremendous amount credit for the direction he has this team heading in. Don’t be surprised that if come post-season, Bankers Life Fieldhouse is hosting home advantage playoff basketball.
Featured photo – via Ron Hoskins / NBAE / Associated Press / Getty Images / Double Clutch illustration