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NBA Monday: Can Miami Keep The Big Three?

With the Miami HEAT closing in on a fourth NBA Finals berth why is there talk of the Big Three breaking up?… What is going on in Memphis?… Up Close With Noah Vonleh.

Steve Kyler



Keeping The Big Three:  For some unexplainable reason – well not entirely unexplainable – there is this public and media driven belief that Miami’s Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are somehow destined to break up. If not this summer, next summer or the summer after that.

All three players signed similarly constructed deals – they all have an option for free agency in July, another one next July and their contracts come to an end in July of 2016. So they all have the option to leave every summer for the next three years.

Having the option and wanting to use the option are two very different things.

Since coming together in July of 2010, the HEAT are 224-88, that is a win rate of 71%. They have won two championships and are on the eve of making their fourth straight Finals appearance and could collect their third championship this year.

Who Could Have Cap Space?

 Team  Max Possible Space
 Dallas Mavericks   $30,834,657
 Philadelphia 76ers   $28,797,920
 Utah Jazz   $26,276,061
 Los Angeles Lakers   $24,808,804
 Phoenix Suns   $23,118,682
 Charlotte Hornets   $18,356,720
 Orlando Magic   $16,139,426
 Cleveland Cavaliers   $16,038,933
 Detroit Pistons   $15,542,190
 Atlanta Hawks   $10,345,536
 Milwaukee Bucks   $10,326,218
 Washington Wizards   $9,380,622
 San Antonio Spurs   $8,265,107
 Boston Celtics   $3,279,450
 Toronto Raptors   $2,483,490
 New Orleans Pelicans   $1,604,459

***Would require renouncing all free agents, options and cap holds. Does not include draft pick placeholders.

The core of the team adores head coach Eric Spoelstra. HEAT president Pat Riley has delivered on everything he promised them in 2010 and HEAT owner Mickey Arison has said he’ll pay whatever he needs to pay to keep the championship train on its tracks.

So exactly what is not working that would have these guys looking for the door?

Dwyane Wade isn’t dead yet. As much as there is this perception among fans that James wouldn’t want to tie himself to Wade long-term because of repeated knee injuries, the two are extremely close friends and there is zero animosity between those two guys. There is a reason they sit at the podium together, there is a reason they came together in Miami in 2010. They are very close.

Bosh is playing the role they ask him to play. If you believe for a second that he can’t be more than he has been in Miami, you might be crazy. Bosh is one of the guys that has put his game in the closet to win championships. He is absolutely capable of doing more for the HEAT and from time to time he shows that. Bosh playing in the paint gums up how Miami plays, so he’s been asked to dial it back to things that fit into the system, and he is more than happy with that. He still makes the All-Star team; he has started a nice jewelry collection and has bought his second massive piece of property in Miami.

He isn’t looking for the door any more than Wade is.

So this brings us back to James.

There is this sense that because he left one team, that he will pick up and leave another. That when the championship train slow down, he’ll get off and go find a new one.

Could you imagine saying that about Tim Duncan? How about Kobe Bryant? Dirk Nowitzki? How about Michael Jordan? He left the Bulls when the Bulls gave up on him. He didn’t hop from team to team trying win championships.

But because James left once, there is this perception he’ll do it again, which completely overlooks how happy he is with his team, his coach, management and ownership.

James has a family in Miami. He is getting absolutely everything he could have dreamed for and a little more and he is packing up and leaving?

He has the option, so because that option is there it must be talked about, because it is an option.

James’ camp does their best to keep everyone honest and aggressive with rumors and innuendo. They want the HEAT to continue to add top level pieces around him to keep that ring train rolling and with how the HEAT’s roster is structured they will be able to do exactly that this summer.

Virtually all of the current roster players’ contracts expire this summer. Udonis Haslem has a final year worth a little more than $4.62 million that is a player option. Chris Andersen has something similar worth $1.44 million. Norris Cole is the only player with a fully guaranteed deal worth just over $2 million. So the books become pretty clean in Miami this summer.

Behind The Numbers
Big Three’s Current Deal

 Year  Salary
 1  $20,590,000
 2  $22,112,500

A New Four Year – $80 Million Deal

 Year  Salary
 1  $17,278,618
 2  $19,092,873
 3  $20,907,127
 4  $22,721,382

The Big Three all have two years and just over $42.7 million left on their deals. If they opt-in, the HEAT won’t have much to work with, but if all three opt-out, the HEAT have plenty of options.

What they re-sign for opens up a lot of possibilities.

A new three year deal in the three years for $60 million range gets the HEAT to roughly $54 million next season to those three players and opens up roughly $9 million in cap space depending on how they manage Haslem and Andersen.

A new four year deal worth $80 million gets the HEAT to $51.8 million in commitments to those three players next season and could open up as much as $11 million in cap space depending on how they manage Haslem and Andersen.

The message to the Big Three is a new four deal lets you pick two or possibly three players from the free agent pool to fill in the roster. Do similar ‘trade you one for two’ deals with Haslem and Andersen to spread out what’s owed across one more year and the HEAT are under the cap, under the tax and have the ability to add whatever they want.

But wait, that means giving Wade and Bosh a bunch of money right?

That’s the cost of keeping the band together.

It’s possible you could say to Wade, give us a little bit of a break and he might do that, especially if it means bolstering the team where he doesn’t have to do as much.

But the money paid out to those guys isn’t nearly as crazy as it sounds, mainly because we have seen the salary cap increase significantly this year and with a new National TV deal on the horizon the cap could go up even more in the life of their contract giving Miami more room to add and build around those guys.

Would the last year of Wade’s deal be ugly? Sure, but if it yields two or three more championships do you honestly believe anyone cares?

It’s easy to say James goes looking for a new championship contender. He has done it before, which means he could do it again. He has the options in his contract and this year’s HEAT are not nearly the unstoppable force that they were even a year ago.

The HEAT have to add fresh blood to the team, and there is a window to do exactly that this summer. As much as some want to talk about the Big Three breaking up, what’s far more likely is that the Big Three opt-out and re-up and give Pat Riley some breathing room to add to the roster. Trading two years and $42 million for four years and $80 million doesn’t seem like a crazy compromise to help your team get under the cap to go after one or two significant free agents.

The HEAT have all kinds of options in front of them and as fun as it is to speculate that it will all come apart as quickly as it all came together, the sense of things is the HEAT have done everything they promised those guys they would do and they all would like for this to keep rolling.

He Is In, He Is Out, He Is In Again:  If you are watching the Memphis Grizzlies from afar, they have become a head scratcher. Out of the blue majority owner Robert Pera ousted the front office and management that had turned the Grizzlies from a perennial money loser with no future beyond what was on the roster, into a profitable team with possibilities beyond the current core of guys.

Thanks for nothing I guess.

As rocky as head coach Dave Joerger’s start was to the season, he found his way mid-season and got the team into the postseason, but as the front office was packing, so too came the belief that Joerger was not Pera’s guy and that he was going to be fired and replaced by a higher profile coach.

There were media reports that Pera wanted to give the team to Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau much like Detroit did with Stan Van Gundy. That was followed by additional reports that suggested if Pera couldn’t get Thibodeau, he’d target Jeff Van Gundy.

Oh what a league it would be if both Van Gundy’s completely ran teams. Can you see it?

Smartly, Joerger started looking at his options and landed on the Timberwolves’ radar. The Wolves were granted permission to interview Joerger for their open coaching position and it seemed like the two were headed towards an agreement.

Joerger met with Wolves president Flip Saunders, who escalated the process to ownership and it seemed a coaching deal was imminent.

However to everyone’s surprise Joerger announced yesterday that he was not heading to Minnesota and that he and Pera had spoken on the phone and that both got to know each other a little and he is excited to remain in Memphis.


Pera took to Twitter to defend his team and his direction. He made sure to point out that the media knew nothing about what was going on and that none of what was being reported was true. He was excited to have Joerger back, and he believes he is the right coach to lead the team.


If you have watched all this unfold and find yourself confused, you are not alone. Former managing general partner Jason Levien who brought all of this together in Memphis, is likely as stunned as everyone else in the equation. Some where he has to be saying ‘I brought this all together and I am the one who is out?’.

If the image of a power mad tech billionaire jumps into your head, that might not be far from the truth.

If you have not seen this, Chris Herrington of the Memphis Flyer did a breakdown in 2012 of who paid what in the Memphis ownership group.

Robert Pera paid $45 million for a 25.6% ownership controlling stake in the team.

Huh? $45 million?

Things in Memphis have taken an absolutely weird turn towards the uncertain, and while Pera seems to want to manage the story from Twitter, at least the team has a head coach.

Chris Wallace, who was as far on the outside of the process as you are two weeks ago, is now back running the show and the draft. It’s completely unclear who will be running the team in the long-term, but for the time being stay tuned to Twitter, because that seems to be how news is going to come out now.

It’s been an odd couple week for Memphis, that’s for sure.

Up Close With Noah Vonleh:  While the top five spots in the 2014 NBA Draft might be pre-slotted to some combination of Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Dante Exum and Julius Randle, Indiana big man Noah Vonleh is very much in the discussion. With amazing length and shooting ability Vonleh gets compared a lot to a young Chris Bosh, and while no two players are the same, Vonleh’s physical dimensions and his scoring averages coming out of college compare extremely close to Bosh and that has teams more than intrigued.

More Twitter:  Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @TheRocketGuy, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @JabariDavisNBA , @NateDuncanNBA , @MokeHamilton , @JCameratoNBA and @YannisNBA.

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.


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NBA Daily: Reggie Jackson Staying Ready for the Clippers

Reggie Jackson hasn’t had much opportunity with the Los Angeles Clippers this season. Still, he’s ready for whenever the team may need him.

David Yapkowitz



There’s an old saying: “if you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready.” That saying would certainly apply to Reggie Jackson this season.

Jackson, who joined the Los Angeles Clippers last season after he was bought out by the Detroit Pistons, re-upped with team on a one-year deal. A once-promising young guard that the Pistons pried away from the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2015 with a five-year, $80 million contract, his time in Detroit was unfortunately marred by injuries and inconsistency.

Still, he was coveted on the buyout market. When Jackson arrived in Los Angeles, the prevailing thought was that he would provide the Clippers with extra guard depth and an additional ball-handler and solid playmaker off the bench. They even had competition from the Los Angeles Lakers for his services.

And, for the most part, Jackson did just that in his 17 regular-season games — including the Orlando bubble seeding games — that he suited up with the Clippers. He put up 9.5 points per game and 3.2 assists while shooting 45.3 percent from the field and 41.3 percent from three-point range.

But the playoffs were a different story. Inconsistency reared its ugly head and Jackson’s numbers dropped to 4.9 points and 0.9 assists while his field goal percentage dipped to 43.8 percent. The Clippers as a whole were inconsistent, especially in their second-round loss to the Denver Nuggets, and it was unsure if Jackson would be back with the team for the 2020-21 season.

He did come back, although it looked as if this year he was going to have some competition at the backup point guard spot with second-year guard Terance Mann. When the season began, new head coach Tyronn Lue alternated between the two from game-to-game, but eventually settled on a rotation that didn’t necessarily include either of them.

For a young player like Mann, finding yourself out of the rotation might seem like necessary growing pains as your career is in its infancy. But, for a vet like Jackson, it can be tough. Lue admitted as much in a recent call with media.

“It was a hard conversation for me because I thought he had been playing well,” Lue said, “but we couldn’t play all the guys, we knew that coming into the season.”

“He took it well. I think when you’re a veteran, when you’re a pro, when you want to win you do whatever it takes to try to win. I just told him to stay ready, it’s a long season with Covid, with injuries and things like that, you got to be ready.”

To Jackson’s credit, he’s done just that and stayed ready for when his next opportunity should arise.

And, luckily for him, it came maybe a bit sooner than expected.

Last Friday against the Sacramento Kings, the Clippers found themselves without both Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams. And, so, Jackson found himself in the starting lineup.

In the win against the Kings, Jackson finished with 11 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists, shot 50 percent from long-range and even threw down a dunk in traffic. After the game, he joked that his teammates had been teasing him for not dunking and for being 30 years old. That moment made him feel like he was younger again.

“It feels good, especially at 30. Seeing the open lane and having a chance to attack,” Jackson said. “I’ve had an injury-plagued career these past few years, I just feel like I’m getting my legs back under me and feel somewhat 20 again, it felt great to go out there to get a dunk.”

“I’m just glad to get it in there. I got a little nervous.”

Before being told he was going to be out of the rotation, Jackson had strung together some solid games off the bench as Lue was experimenting with the lineup. In the Clippers Dec 29 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, Jackson had perhaps his best game of the season with 11 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals and a block.

He followed that up with another strong performance in a win against a good Portland Trail Blazers team with 11 points, 2 assists and 66.7 percent shooting from the field including 50 percent from downtown. Jackson understands that some nights he might not see any playing time while other nights he may be called upon to provide a spark.

“I just want to be ready, I’m just trying to stay ready for anything and whenever my name is called this year,” he said. “I just try to manage the point guard like a quarterback, on wins. There’s things I can improve on, things I could be better at. For the most part I just want to find a way to help my team get a win.”

With the return of Beverley, Jackson only played 13 minutes off the bench in the Clippers most recent game against the Indiana Pacers. Still, he figures to be a regular in the rotation with Williams still day-to-day and Lue has liked what he’s seen from him in these recent wins.

“He’s a point guard, he did a good job with catch and shoot, distributing the basketball, but also running the team,” Lue said. “That’s what we expect him to do. I’m happy for Reggie, staying ready and being a professional.”

For Jackson, one of the things that have helped him the most this season is having two championship-caliber point guards on the sideline in Lue and assistant coach Chauncey Billups, as well as assistants Larry Drew and Kenny Atkinson who were solid point guards in their playing days, too.

Although he’s a veteran, he’s always trying to learn and always trying to improve and he feels like this is the best group for him to learn from.

“They’re helping me day-in and day-out. Having a slew of point guards and great minds at the helm is just helping me with my maturation and seeing the game,” Jackson said. “Having somebody to bounce ideas off of steadily, I think it’s working really well right now. I’m just fortunate to have their minds and try to pick their brains as much as possible. I know I’ve been doing this 10 years but to have those guys in my corner, they’ve forgotten more basketball than I know. I always try to soak it up.”

And if Jackson can continue to refine his game — to pick up what he can as he picks the brains of Lue, Billups and the others — and stay ready, he just might come up big for Los Angeles when they need him most.

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NBA Daily: Youth Fueling San Antonio

Gregg Popovich has typically relied heavily on his veteran players. Now, he has a cast of young talent that is fueling a Spurs resurgence. Chad Smith puts the spotlight on the rising stars in San Antonio.

Chad Smith



Last season was strange for everyone, but especially San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. It was the first time in his 25-year tenure that his team missed the playoffs. Heck, it was the first time his team ever finished with a losing record since he took the job in 1996. But, in spite of that season and the fact that Popovich will turn 72 next week, his motivation and excitement are still there.

Popovich has done it and seen it all during his time on the bench. From winning five NBA titles to coaching countless Hall of Fame players along the way. His list of accomplishments is endless, but the coaching job he is doing this year might just rank right near the top.

Most teams around the league are either primarily comprised of young and inexperienced players or made up mostly of veterans who know how to manage the game. You won’t find many that have a nice mixture of both, let alone having the talent that the Spurs seem to have. Their roster doesn’t have an All-Time great player, either; you won’t find a Tim Duncan, David Robinson, Manu Ginóbili or Tony Parker here. They have a great veteran duo, to be fair — both DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge are capable of playing at a high level — but neither can be asked to carry a team at this stage of their respective careers.

It is Popovich’s job to take those ingredients and cook up something special. And it’s here where his and San Antonio’s player development abilities shine through.

The 2019 NBA Draft was oozing with talent at the top with guys like Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, and RJ Barret taking the spotlight. And while no one wants to miss out on the postseason, their down year could have been a blessing in disguise for Spurs, who have long had a knack for plucking hidden gems in the first round. Dejounte Murray, Derrick White and Keldon Johnson were all drafted by the Spurs as the 29th overall selection.

And this season, while White has only played one game because of an injury, it has been the duo of Murray and Johnson that has been the spark for a reinvigorated San Antonio.

Murray, in particular, is finally having the breakout season that many envisioned. He has improved his scoring average by five points per game and is posting career-high averages in rebounds, assists and free throw percentage. Not only is he hitting the free throws, but Murray is also getting to the line more often instead of settling for mid-range jumpers.

As good as Murray has played thus far, it has been Johnson’s emergence that has been turning heads around the league.

Not many players from the loaded 2019 draft have busted onto the scene in their second year quite like Johnson has. After appearing in just 17 games last season, the former Kentucky product has elevated his game to new heights. So far this season he is averaging 14 points and seven rebounds while starting every game for San Antonio.

While his minutes and shot attempts have greatly increased in his new role, Johnson has maintained an efficiency that has allowed him to blossom. The Spurs desperately need some floor spacing, as they rank in the bottom five of the league in terms of three-point shot attempts; Johnson’s ability to shoot both vital to their strong start and has been heavily relied upon with guys like DeRozan, Murray and Aldridge all making their living in the mid-range area.

Johnson also has the tools and intelligence to make a major impact on the defensive end of the floor. His large frame allows him to guard bigger players and take contact, while his length and athleticism make him a great closeout defender. Popovich has relied on him heavily in their games where they’ve had to face the likes of LeBron James, Christian Wood, Pascal Siakam and former Spur Kawhi Leonard.

White’s prolonged absence has opened the door for another youngster, Lonnie Walker, who has flourished with the opportunity. There is a reason San Antonio took him with the 18th overall pick a few years ago and, now, he seems to be putting it all together. His scoring and efficiency have drastically improved, while his patience and understanding of what is happening on the floor seem more apparent.

Walker has always had elite-level athleticism, but he has worked on his jump shot and finishing ability at the rim. He has been one of their best scoring options this season, capable of putting up 20 points or more on any given night. Walker and Popovich have given much of the credit to Murray’s leadership.

The 24-year-old point guard seems to be establishing himself as the leader of this team. His patience running the offense and finding teammates in half-court sets has been crucial. Their transition game has been thriving as well, with their young guys getting downhill and putting pressure on defenders. They rank in the top-five in terms of drives per game, as Popovich has emphasized the importance of getting to the rim and creating open shots for others.

Another statistic that Popovich has to be thrilled with speaks volumes about the growth of his backcourt: the Spurs turn the ball over less than any other team in the league. In fact, they are the only team that commits fewer than 10 turnovers per game.

Confidence plays a major role in how well a player develops. And it appears as though Popovich has instilled confidence in Murray and Walker, which has enabled them to take off. Johnson’s confidence was evident last season, where he erupted in his final games at the bubble in Orlando.

Just as he has injected confidence into his young guys, Popovich has channeled patience and better decision-making into DeRozan as well. No longer is he forcing up shots and shying away from the three-point line. It may have taken a bit longer than many expected, but Popovich may have molded DeRozan into the best version of himself.

Whether attacking their talented trio of young players or a veteran like DeRozan, Aldridge or Patty Mills, San Antonio is going to be a tough team to keep down or put away. The Western Conference is stacked once again but, while they may roster the same names as last season, this Spurs team is vastly different.

And, if they continue to grow and trust one another, there could be another playoff run on the horizon for Popovich and San Antonio.

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Will The Pacers’ Change In Style Pay Off?

With deals and changes abound, the Indiana Pacers’ wild rebuild marks them as a franchise on the rise.

Ariel Pacheco



After coming off four consecutive first-round exits under head coach Nate McMillan, the Indiana Pacers decided it was time to make a change. Instead of dismantling or retooling a core that had been acquired mostly by opportunistic deals, general manager Kevin Pritchard went in a different direction and, early into the season, it seems like it has paid off. 

Under Nate Bjorkgren, the Indiana Pacers have dramatically transformed their style of play. Many of the mid-range jumpers they took last season have turned into shots at the rim or three-pointers instead. There are a lot more dribble hand-offs, staggered screens and an overall sense of purpose in every action on offense. The offense has operated like a well-oiled machine, largely with Domantas Sabonis acting as the main engine. 

This has led to Sabonis’ play and potential being unlocked. Ultimately, Sabonis is well on his way to another All-Star appearance, averaging career highs in points (21.7 PPG), rebounds (12.8 RPG) and assists (5.8 APG). While his usage is similar to last season’s, the way he’s being utilized is very different. With McMillan, Sabonis was mostly used as a post-up big who also scored a lot as a roll-man. Bjorkgren is giving him those same touches but he has also a lot more free reign to operate and make decisions.

Sabonis is now attacking teams in semi-transition after defensive rebounds. Basically, all the offensive actions are run through him, which have accentuated his passing ability. His range has also improved, and he’s turned his 20-foot jumpers into three-point attempts. Moreover, it’s a huge part of the reason why the Pacers rank 11th in offensive rating (111.3). Sabonis is a walking mismatch who can play almost any role in an offense and Bjorkgren has let him roam free.

Better, Malcolm Brogdon is also playing at an All-Star level. He’s averaging 22.2 points per game along with 7.5 assists per game, both career highs. Brogdon’s shooting 43.3 percent from three and is another player who’s benefitted from Bjorkgren’s offense. Brogdon’s ability to shoot threes while dribbling off screens and the ability to attack out of dribble hand-offs has allowed for the Pacers’ offense to be far less predictable than in the past. 

Myles Turner is probably in the lead for Defensive Player of the Year so far. He’s averaging an insane 4.2 blocks per game, practically shutting down the paint for opposing offenses. Turner has been relegated to a mostly spot-up role in the offense, but those mid-range jumpers from last season have become three-pointers to this point. While he has struggled to hit three’s so far, his shot quality is considerably better. However, his value comes on the defensive end, where he is anchoring the 9th best team in defensive rating at 107.8. Opponents are shooting just 54.4 percent in the restricted area when Turner is in. Although his recent hand fracture will surely complicate proceedings there and the Pacers will miss him sorely.

The Indiana bench has also provided some good minutes. Doug McDermott is effective not only with his jumper but with his underrated cutting ability. Justin Holiday has been solid and is shooting 43.1 percent from three. His brother, Aaron Holiday, has had his ups and downs but built himself into a solid rotation player. Naturally, TJ McConnell has been his usual pesky-self. 

There’s still plenty of room for upside as the Pacers have dealt with injuries to some key guys. TJ Warren, last season’s bubble breakout star, is out indefinitely after having foot surgery. Jeremy Lamb tore his ACL last season, is close to returning but hasn’t played a single minute this season. The Pacers’ newest addition, Caris LeVert, will be out indefinitely after a small mass was found on his kidney. All three are proven guys who can really help Indiana take the next step.

Sadly, it gets more difficult with Turner’s injury too.

Interestingly enough, many of the players have seemingly gone out of their way to not only express their appreciation for Bjorkgren’s coaching – while also knowing the difference compared to years past. Brogdon, Sabonis and McDermott have all seemingly made it clear that this style of play is preferable to last year under McMillan. 

“In seasons past, the offense didn’t call for me to do those certain things,” Turner said “But coach has a lot of confidence in me… I’ve just had the chance to show it this season.” 

Questions about the Turner-Sabonis pairing now seem to have gone away. It’s no secret that Turner oft mentioned in trade rumors the entire offseason in large part due to his perceived fit with Sabonis. Bjorkgren has found a way to maximize both player’s skillsets while also keeping them happy with their roles. Bigger, Pacers’ lineups with Sabonis and Turner have a 2.5 net rating. 

The improved play of the Indiana stars is something that can be attributed to Bjorkgren’s shift in their style of play. It’s what Pritchard was hoping for when he made the coaching change. The Pacers made a calculated gamble when they fired a proven coach with this roster in Nate McMillan and now the Pacers are 8-5 with room to grow. If Sabonis and Brogdon can continue this level of play as guys come back healthy, the Pacers will be a team no one wants to face come playoff time.

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