The Eastern Conference has had a strong showing throughout the one-third season mark. Two teams remain at the top in the Raptors and the Cavaliers, but the 3-8 seeds seem to shuffle on a game-by-game basis. One team that has been prevalent in this system of fluctuation is the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers are currently sitting at .500 with a record of 18-18. They have strung together streaks, both winning and losing, leading up to this point in the season. The current streak they are on is a positive one as they have won 3 consecutive contests.
In the last contest of 2016, the Pacers hosted a Chicago Bulls squad at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on December 30th. The team was very active on both sides of the court with praise-worthy performances by both Paul George and Jeff Teague. George led the team with 32 points and Teague handled out an impressive 17 dimes. Glenn Robinson III worked hard on the boards leading the team in that category with 10. It was a spectacle that ended with the Pacers winning 111-101. This also marked a comeback as the team fell to the Bulls at the United Center four nights prior. A nice win to add to the win column being that the Bulls are 0.5 games behind the Pacers in the current conference standings.
On the first day of the New Year, the Pacers would play host to the Orlando Magic. This was a second straight contest that involved statistical intrigue. Six players would score in double figures and Myles Turner would gain the boost he needed to record his first double-double of the season. The Magic (15-19 heading into this contest) could not account for the contributions coming at them from all angles on this night. The Pacers would win this contest by 13 with a final score of 117-104.
Two nights later the team would make the short trek to Detroit to take on the Pistons. Paul George failed to reach 20 points against the Magic, but would go onto repeat his performance just four nights prior with another 32-point outing. The team would need this performance from George as they would allow six different Pistons to reach double figures. This game wasn't pretty for the team, but they got the job done with a high scoring affair. The team won the contest 121-116, but would be left with a few thinking points moving forward.
The Pacers now sit at 18-18 and this streak was something they needed to rebuild that positivity among the players. The team features a lot of contributing factors that each played or exceeded their individual roles during these three games. It would also mark the rebirth of an unlikely contributor in Aaron Brooks. Brooks scored a total of 26 points through these three contests (8, 14, and 4 respectively).
The Pacers have always relied heavily on their bench for increased scoring production. They have featured two potential sixth man candidates in both Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Miles throughout the past couple of seasons. Stuckey has been hampered by injury for much of this season and Miles has had on-and-off health issues as well. Finding a gem with Brooks is an added piece the team can refer to in time of need for guard relief. They need these players to step up if the team expect to compete in the east, and beat team out west. While out in San Antonio last month with the Pacers in town I splurged for some Spurs tickets, and was thoroughly disappointed in the routing I witnessed, where the gold and blue rolled over from the start.
The team's offseason additions are paying huge dividends for the team. Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young, and Al Jefferson were brought in to boost the team at key positions. Teague has played some of the most consistent ball in his career with assist and point averages exceeding expectations. Young started off hot and has his flashes of brilliance. He is still finding his footing in a starting lineup that is crowded with scoring talent. Al Jefferson was a key addition because he brings leadership to the court when he sans Myles Turner. He also brings a veteran voice which has provided Turner with an exponential amount of useful information. These three have helped facilitate the way this team does things and they couldn't possibly be a winning team without them.
The team really needs to find their defensive prowess moving forward. Contention for the playoffs remains fierce in this conference and that will not let up anytime soon. Keying in on their opponent's key contributors and finding ways to offset their individual skill set will help the team play at their own pace. While the scoring remains balanced for the Pacers, it cannot remain balanced for the opposing teams as this is no way to remain victorious in this league.
Keeping a consistent bench output and making up for missed shots on the defensive side of the ball are two areas the team needs to key in on. Adjusting their gameplay to help accommodate or make-up for these lacking's will help the team continue their hot play. The team can and will make the playoffs if they make these small changes moving forward.