Coming into this season, the Indiana Pacers were naturally tabbed as one of the challengers to the Heat’s championship reign. After all, last season Indiana got to within one win of the NBA Finals before succumbing to Miami in seven games.
The Pacers’ hot start to this campaign has shown they are here to stay and will be hoping to overtake Miami in the East. Indiana won a team-record nine games in a row to begin the season and currently holds the NBA’s best record. Despite that, here are five reasons why they will not maintain this lightning pace:
1. Misleading early schedule. Indiana’s opponents so far have been relatively weak. Their best win was arguably at home against the Chicago Bulls, while their first loss was a comprehensive beat-down at an improved Bulls team just 10 days later. The Pacers are yet to get to the meat of their schedule. Before Christmas, a lengthy road trip awaits which includes dates with Western Conference favorites San Antonio, Oklahoma City and L.A. Clippers. They also have two clashes with LeBron James and the Heat.
2. Not enough killer instinct. The Pacers grind out too many wins and have a tendency of letting inferior competition hang around in games. Eight of their first ten wins were single-digit contests in the final quarter. A long and arduous 82-game season will wear any team down that doesn’t learn to step on an opponent’s throat when given the opportunity.
3. Lack of elite point guard. George Hill is serviceable, but his 3.5 assists per game are not enough to facilitate the Indiana offense. Paul George and Roy Hibbert are knocking on the door of becoming elite players, but will not take the next step offensively without better service. As a team, Indiana is in the bottom third of the league when it comes to assists per game. (The Miami Heat don’t have an elite point guard, but LeBron and Dwyane Wade’s handling of the ball more than makes up for that)
4. Poor play on the road. While the Pacers are very good at protecting their home court, they’re often a different prospect on the road. Last season Indiana were a losing team away from home, which cost them a shot at the Eastern Conference’s 2nd seed. Despite a better showing so far in this campaign, the lopsided loss in Chicago and the overtime win at struggling New York are causes for concern.
5. Added pressure and expectations. Last season’s talk about whether the Heat could repeat and when the injured Derrick Rose would return to the Bulls allowed Indiana to fly under the radar in the East. That’s no longer a luxury for coach Frank Vogel and company, as they’ve become arguably Miami’s biggest challengers. The Pacers have plenty of experience but lack players who’ve dealt with pressure like that before.
Miami will remain the league favorite until someone knocks them off their perch. Will that team be the Indiana Pacers? We’ll have a much better idea come Christmas.