Twelve games have passed and a funny thing has happened this NBA season. The injury riddled Indiana Pacers, that were supposed to tank, aren't half bad! Their record sits at 5 and 7 after back to back wins over Chicago and Lance Stephenson's Charlotte Hornets. They also went down to Miami and defeated the Heat, now led by Wade and Bosh. LeBron may be back in Ohio, but it was still very satisfying to see all those sad tan people exit the stadium with a big fat L.
Currently they are tied for the 8 seed (not that it matters this early), and that is without a single game played from David West, George Hill, C.J. Watson, and obviously Paul George. It has also come without Rodney Stuckey for 7 games, and with C.J. Miles either being out or ineffective.
How have they done it? With rebounding and defense. The Pacers are 2nd in rebounds per game with 47.6, and 4th in points allowed per game at 93. The offense has not been pretty. Their 91.6 points per game is 28th in the NBA, and they are dead last in assists at 15 per game.
Roy Hibbert has been fantastic this season. The big man is back to his old self averaging 14 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 3 blocks per game with a PER of 20.65. The points, blocks, and PER would be career highs if he keeps this up for the remainder of the season.
Even if he regresses a bit, seeing Hibbert perform this well after his odd slump last season is nice to see. There is a future in which Paul George returns and it is reassuring to know that he will have a confident and productive Roy Hibbert next to him when he does.
Last night's hero Solomon Hill has also shown positive signs for the future (and present). He is averaging a modest 12.1 points, and 5.9 rebounds per game, but he clearly has more confidence in his offensive game and his defense on the perimeter has been very good.
Trying to fit all the weirdness of this season into one article is quite the challenge (especially because I have a meeting in 30 minutes). There have been those annoying injuries, A.J. Price heat checks, a 31 point night from Donald Sloan, Lavoy Allen grabbing rebounds like crazy, and heck even Luis Scola is shooting 54.5 percent from the field.
Am I going overboard celebrating the successes of a team with a record two games below .500? Probably, but considering what my expectations were, this has been a strange and satisfying 12 games.
All this is to say, I'm proud of this plucky group of misfits. They might make the playoffs, they might not. Either way they have been fun to root for, even if the basketball has not been so pretty. There is still a long way to go, but once reinforcements arrive I have a strangely positive vibe about where this season is headed. Tempering my optimism slightly is a difficult stretch of the schedule coming up that features a heavy dose of Western Conference teams, a meeting with LeBron, and a trip to Canada.
After Chicago, Washington, and Toronto, the East is currently a random muddle of teams who are good enough to make the playoffs, but perhaps not actually all that good. I guess Cleveland should be considered in the upper tier of the conference, but until they start playing defense anything could happen with them. Last year Atlanta nabbed the 8 seed with only 38 wins. Some group of teams has to fill out those 4-8 spots. Why not Indiana?