A year ago, the Indiana Pacers were able to fly under the radar as they didn’t have high expectations pegged on them as the media were focused on the Miami Heat, Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls.
Despite having a successful campaign in which they finished third in the Eastern Conference, it appears this no one believes in this team again.
Still, the players in the Pacers locker-room are excited about and what the team should be able to accomplish. They are relishing the fact they are underdogs.
“We need to continue to play with that chip on our shoulder,” George Hill boasted. “Last year we went to the playoffs and we had a good run, but we still didn’t reach the goal that we wanted to reach and that’s win an NBA title. For people to not count us as one of the East’s elite? That’s what we want. We want to fly under the radar because we have unfinished business from last season.”
Hill isn’t the only Pacer with a chip on his shoulder. Paul George, a player who many pundits feel will eventually be named the NBA’s most improved player this season, has a chance to take another big step forward and is using the pundit’s predictions as motivation.
“It is something that motivates you because we finished third in our conference and we were only something like four games behind Miami,” George said. “Then we gave Miami a run in the playoffs. It definitely puts a chip on our shoulders that we still aren’t getting respect.”
Respect is something that is earned by winning playoff series and going deep into the playoffs. Sure, some teams like the New York Knicks or Brooklyn Nets are able to stay relevant and garner countless headlines due to flashy additions, but teams need to earn respect by marching deep into the playoffs on a consistent basis.
Indiana’s head coach, Frank Vogel, realizes his team can’t get too cocky after one season, however he feels that the team is ready to build on what they started last season.
“I think we come into this season believing we are one of the best teams in the league opposed to last season where we spent the year building that belief and that confidence in ourselves,” Vogel said. “Last year in the playoffs we saw we could compete with the eventual champions, the Miami Heat, and that just helped us in the offseason and carrying into this season by giving us a great deal of confidence.”
Last year, the Pacers flashed glimpses of their potential. They were able to secure a 2-1 lead in their second round series against the Miami Heat before succumbing to the eventual NBA champions in a hard-fought six-game series.
The Pacers are looking to build on their success from last season.
“The last month of the season we started smacking teams around,” Vogel boasted. “When we moved George Hill to our starting point guard that starting unit, every time they stepped on the court, was dominating everybody they faced. Whether it was the Miami Heat or anybody else. Our bench wasn’t and we made some upgrades to the bench this summer.”
The team got a bit of a scare this week when it was announced leading scorer Danny Granger would miss time due to an injury issue, but, even without the face of the franchise, Vogel believes the Pacers have enough depth and veteran leadership to sustain the team during his absence.
“We are still a beast of a team,” Vogel said about the absence of Granger. “We’ve still got all-stars at a bunch of positions. George (Hill) is going to be an all-star at the point guard spot by the time his career is over while David West and Roy (Hibbert) have both been all-stars. We think Paul George is going to be an all-star at some point and Gerald Green has been a pleasant surprise. He is going to step into the starting small forward spot for Danny Granger and he is going to give us a scoring punch and he has given us great energy on the defensive end.”
This summer the Pacers were able to re-sign their All-Star big man Hibbert while making some subtle tweaks to improve their roster. Additions like DJ Augustin, Miles Plumlee, Gerald Green and Ian Mahinmi weren’t sexy moves, but they were smart moves that filled needs.
With the Eastern Conference up for grabs, the Pacers look to once again be one of the top teams in the conference. It will be interesting to see if they continue their ascent or if they will stumble.