Road to the 2017 Playoffs: Indiana Pacers

TJ Manotoc
Indiana Pacers' Paul George and Lance Stephenson react during the second half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Atlanta Hawks, in Indianapolis. Indiana defeated Atlanta 104-86. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

42 - 40, #7 in the East, third in the Central Division

Key transactions: 

The biggest move the Pacers made was on the bench, as Coach Frank Vogel was let go after a combined nine seasons as assistant and head coach. Hungry to get back to title contention, Indiana promoted former Seattle Supersonics and Portland Trail Blazers head coach and Pacers assistant Nate McMillan to the lead position. 

After several seasons of being known as a defense-first squad, the team made a move towards a more up-tempo scoring identity. The team executed a pair of trades, sending George Hill to the Utah Jazz, in exchange for ex-Atlanta Hawk Jeff Teague, and dealing a rookie Caris LeVert to the Brooklyn Nets for Thaddeus Young. They then filled out their bench with players like Aaron Brooks, Al Jefferson, and Kevin Seraphin. 

Just before April, Lance Stephenson became the team’s prodigal son, returning to get another crack at resurrecting his career. He was signed as a replacement for the waived Rodney Stuckey.

Top performers: 

Paul George - 23.7 ppg (46.1% FG, 39.4% 3FG), 6.6 rpg, 3.3 apg, 1.6 spg
Jeff Teague - 15.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 7.8 apg, 1.2 spg
Myles Turner - 14.5 ppg (51.0% FG), 7.2 rpg, 2.1 bpg
Thaddeus Young - 11.0 ppg (52.7% FG) 6.1 rpg, 1.6 apg, 1.5 spg
Monta Ellis - 8.5 ppg (44.3% FG), 2.8 rpg, 3.2 apg, 1.1 spg
CJ Miles - 10.7 ppg (41.3% 3FG) 3.0 rpg
Lance Stephenson - 7.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 4.2 apg

Key injuries: 

- Al Jefferson is nursing a sprained left ankle, and his status for game two is unclear.

- Slam dunk champ Glenn Robinson III is questionable for game two, due to a left calf strain. 

Key stats:

- The Pacers are pretty much where they are in the league as a seventh seed in the East. They rank 15th in scoring at 105.1 ppg (108.6 ORTG - #15), and 14th on defense with 105.3 ppg (108.8 DRTG - #16). They are though #3 in opponents’ fast break points allowed (10.6 per game) and #4 in opponents’ points in the paint allowed (39.7 per game).

Storylines:

Though it feels like an eternity from when the Pacers were legit Eastern Conference contenders, it really wasn’t that long ago when they battled the Miami Heat in three straight postseasons. Indiana fell in six games in the second round back in 2012, then battled to six and seven games in the 2013 and 14 conference finals, respectively. But that fateful leg injury in the Team USA exhibition to Paul George derailed this team’s chances and set them back. The team began to disassemble their squad, beginning with the exits of Roy Hibbert and Lance Stephenson. Team president Larry Bird embraced the rebuild, and looked to surround George, who bounced back well from the broken leg, with top-notch talent. 

This season, a late run in April allowed the team to return to the Playoffs. Prior to that though, Bird and company entertained the thought of trading George, something that might still happen in the offseason if the Pacers don’t become legit contenders, as George has let it be known that he might be headed back to Southern California when his contract is up. 

The Pacers have an interesting mix - it has veterans like Monta Ellis, Teague, and Young, flanking George, but their young guys, like Turner and Robinson III, are intriguing as well. Blending those two parts around George will be key, if they’re to upset the defending champions Cavaliers.

Fun fact: The last time the Pacers were in the Finals was back in 2000, when Reggie Miller and company battled the LA Lakers. They’re still looking for that first NBA title, although the franchise did win six back in the ABA.

(Stats current as of end of regular season)

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