Pacing Themselves

The Indiana Pacers will win the NBA Championship this season.

There – I said it. In June, kids in Indiana will have more to cheer about than just getting out of school. And at least one kid in New Hampshire will cheer about the same thing.

Remember last year when the Pacers won a convincing Game 3 victory, 94-75, over the offensive juggernaut of Miami in the second round of the playoffs? Remember how they held the Heat to 4-20 from behind the 3-point arc or how they kept the Heat, who averaged 99 points per game, to a mere 74 in that contest OR how about the Pacers’ Tenacious D keeping the Heat to 35% shooting – a full 10% below their normal field goal percentage?

The Pacers can return to that form. Also, when they took that 2-1 lead of the series against LeBron and the Heat, they were in control. Dwyane Wade had fought with Erik Spoelstra, Roy Hibbert was playing out of his mind and Danny Granger’s left knee was still intact.

The Pacers then lost the services of Granger and his left knee to the same injury that claimed Vince Carter in the 2000-01 season. That was detrimental to the Pacers as Granger was their leading scorer for the past five consecutive seasons.

The importance of the Small Forward Danny Granger cannot be understated. He was the leader in the plus-minus category for the Pacers (+6.2), the leading scorer (18.7 ppg) and the physical and emotional General on the Floor for Indiana.

This season Indiana’s defense is just as stingy – tops in the NBA in points per game allowed at 90.2 and best in the league in opponent’s field goal percentage with 41.9% – as compared to a year ago. However, their total team offense has fallen 4.9 points per game in the absence of Granger. Without him, three guards: Paul George, George Hill and Lance Stephenson, have all increased their average scoring output per game by at least five points.

The problem is that even though that trio has increased their scoring the Pacers are only scoring 92.8 points per game on 43% shooting, 28th and 27th out of 30 in the NBA respectively. So even though their prodigious defense keeps teams from scoring, their offensive struggles hinder their efforts to win games.

As Danny Granger returns Wednesday to “get his feet wet,” according to Coach Frank Vogel, he will work his way back to basketball-shape. When Granger gets back in basketball shape he will legitimize the Pacers as a threat in not only the Eastern Conference, but in the NBA.

The Pacers – who finished third in the Eastern Conference a year previous – felt that Granger’s injury may have made the Pacers take a step retrograde to their promising future.

It may have been a disguised blessing as Hill and the two 22-year olds (Stephenson and George) have been able to have larger roles in the offense and learn more on their own without relying on Granger. Another note: no need to worry about chemistry that the ‘New-look Pacers’ may have built up, Granger is (unlike most of today’s superstars) in the middle of his prime and remains a team player. In fact, last year the Pacers were 11-points worse per 48 minutes with Granger off the floor than on and shot 6% worse on field goal attempts.

Even without their Captain, they have excelled against good teams. The top-ranked defenders are 2-0 against the Heat, the top-ranked offense in the NBA, with 87-77 and 102-89 victories. That as well as a 105-95 triumph over the fifth-ranked offense in the Houston Rockets should inspire hope in Indiana.

This year, through their first 51 games – all without their Captain – they’re 31-20 and in third place in the Eastern Conference. So when Danny Granger finally is available for the Pacers, they will become even more dangerous.

The biggest part: as Danny Granger – a good, but not great, defender – returns to the rotation he may give up a bit of defense, but will certainly increase their scoring and therefore, chances to win. Also, as Granger works his way back and becomes stronger with every game played he will be reaching his performance peak around the same time the NBA playoffs start in April and will be playing his best ball of the year when others around the League are fighting off nagging injuries and dealing with overuse.

The Pacers shouldn’t have problems with overuse because the average age of the Pacers roster is 27 years old and Granger is the second-oldest member of the team at the ancient 29-year old mark.

Also, with the leadership of Granger and 32-year old veteran big-man David West and the younger, talented members of their backcourt – the Pacers have all the ingredients to cook a winner winner chicken dinner.

When everyone else is straining for breath at the finish line, the revitalized Pacers will still have gas in the tank. And at playoff time, gas in the tank is money in the bank.

So in response to a question as to why the Pacers have started off slowly this year and aren’t living up to the hype, all that can be said is that they’re Pacing themselves.

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