If the NBA season ended today, the Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks and Charlotte Hornets would all be on the outside looking in. Any one of those teams can fairly be called a surprise after four weeks of NBA play.
The biggest surprise, however, is that four of the five teams in the NBA’s Central Division would be in the playoffs. In some ways, one could make sense for the Milwaukee Bucks managing to remain a few games over .500 at this juncture of this season.
But I would challenge you to tell me that you predicted that the Indiana Pacers would have somehow remained relevant after losing both Paul George and Lance Stephenson and being forced to begin the season without starting power forward David West.
West suffered an ankle injury that caused him to miss the first 15 games of the regular season for the Pacers, only recently making his debut. Rodney Stuckey, George Hill and C.J. Watson have all dealt with injuries, as well.
Still, somehow, Frank Vogel has kept his team playing.
Somehow, behind Roy Hibbert, Chris Copeland, Donald Sloan, Solomon Hill and A.J. Price, the Pacers have put together spirited efforts thus far in the early season and have scored some eye-opening victories over some of the league’s more talented teams.
The Miami HEAT, Chicago Bulls and Dallas Mavericks have all fallen victim to what was thought to be an under-talented team. After beginning the season at just 1-6, the Pacers have put together a 6-3 stretch and are playing the brand of hard-nosed, hard-working basketball that has been the earmark of their success in the Eastern Conference over the past few years.
As it stands, Solomon Hill, Lavoy Allen and Donald Sloan lead the team in minutes, rebounds and assists per game – and they’re winning.
Thanksgiving has come and gone and with the Eastern Conference seemingly improved across the board, most believed that the Pacers would be on the outside looking in. Before the season began, West shared similar sentiments.
Yet still, here they are. The Pacers rank fifth in the league in points allowed (94.4) and still seem to have an identity and a belief in themselves.
That’s good coaching, but it also happens to be something else: The biggest surprise in the early goings of the Eastern Conference.
– Moke Hamilton