Like so many of the notable Indiana Pacers teams before them, these Pacers are teetering on that line.
The Pacers successfully completed a three-wins-in-three-nights gauntlet Wednesday, after pummeling the 76ers 88-69 in Philadelphia. It was the Pacers 5th win in a row as they were the only team to play a back-to-back-back this season.
After a slow start out of the gates — an uninspiring 3-6 start to the season — the Pacers are now 31-19 overall – just a single win behind the Miami Heat for first place in the Eastern Conference – and will play seven of their next eight games at home where they are 20-3.
Despite lacking Miami and New York’s flair for the spectacular, Indy is among the top-half of the league in offensive efficiency and are a bruising, long-armed, in-your-face enforcer on the defensive end – first in the league.
While their core has stayed the same, they’ve made the in-house improvements that were expected – and required – of them to take a step forward this year.
Most notably is Paul George, whose shortcomings in last year’s playoffs led him to transform himself into an All-Star this season.
He’s averaging 17.6 points, four assists and nearly eight rebounds per game, but after averaging just 14/3/6 in November, George has improved every month, approaching 22/5/7 territory in February. Couple that with his maturation into an elite wing defender, and the Pacers have one of the missing pieces from last year.
Another bright spot has been David West, who has played with an aggressive bent that his recovering knee wouldn’t allow last year. Since not making the All-Star team, West has been one of the leagues best players. He’s averaged 21.5 points and put up 30 and 29 in big games against Miami in Chicago since Jan 24th.
And he is still the locker-room sage and inspirational leader that this young roster looks to in times of crisis.
And then there is Lance Stephenson.
Once a troubled prospect out of Cincinnati, Larry Bird’s third-year project guard has filled in admirably as a starter in Danny Granger’s absence.
Along with George, Stephenson continues to improve month-by-month, averaging 14.7 points in February while shooting a head-turning 66.7 percent from 3-point range. February’s sample size is small, but Stephenson’s game continues to be big.