With a six game lead on the Eastern Conference it will be tough for any team to catch the Miami Heat. Fans and experts alike already expect them to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals for the second year in a row. However, there is one group that has been given the title of "the East's only hope," in stopping LeBron James and the crew at some point during the post season. That group is the Indiana Pacers and they seem equipped to take the challenge.
At 36-21 the Pacers have cemented themselves as the number two team in the Eastern Conference. While their record isn't as strong as Miami's across the board, they have already defeated the defending champions twice this year. Along with that, they've trounced the number three team in the conference, the New York Knicks, on two separate occasions. When playing against the Heat this year, the Pacers have held them to 83 points per game which is well under the 103.9 average they have had all season. This is on a combined 61 of 138 shooting from the floor which equates to a meager 44.2 percent. The two teams will face each other again on March, 10th.
Looking at this roster you don't see a listing of the big name stars that many other organizations have across the league. Instead, you see a group that players a defensive version of team ball; beating their opposition with a style that really is all their own.
With a defensive that is ranked first in the league in points allowed, the Pacers are stopping teams from doing one of the most important things on the court. They have wrecked groups that are built for scoring by swarming to the ball during every possession and contesting almost every shot that goes up. Keeping opponents to just 89.6 is vital when the Pacers are only able to score 94 points per game, which is 24th across the league. The post season is marred with games where the pace is slower than the regular season and teams that can control every trip down the court with efficient offense and defense have a better chance at being successful in the long run.
The Pacers are enjoying a five game winning streak and have won 8 out of their last 10 games. During this run they have scored 103.3 points per game while holding their opponents to just 88.1 points each outing. This streak includes five wins over playoff teams. This is a running example of how well they are controlling each possession and keeping some of the highest scoring teams in check for the full 48 minutes that they are on the court.
At 23-12 against the Eastern Conference it will be impressive to see if the Pacers have what it takes to challenge the Heat in the NBA Playoffs. They surprised the South Beach group for two games during last year's postseason and are a much improved team since then. The Heat may be considered the best team in the East but that won't stop the Indiana Pacers from being a true test to see if they can get to the NBA Finals once again.