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Turner Addition Makes Pacers East’s Frontrunner

Even though their lead over Miami is smaller than it once was, Indiana is still poised to wrestle the East’s crown away from the HEAT.

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The Indiana Pacers remain one of the league’s most intriguing teams, especially in an Eastern Conference nearly devoid of compelling storylines. Currently possessing the league’s best record at 43-13, their two-game lead over the Miami HEAT is far less comfortable than the four to five games that once separated the two in late-January. While this Miami team has proven that they can win an absolutely vital game on an opponent’s home court, these Pacers, immense talent aside, can’t make such a claim.

In a locker room with so much chemistry spawning from an apparent organizational unity, there were some that questioned the decision to finally move longtime Pacer Danny Granger in favor of fourth-year swingman Evan Turner. The truth is, it’s been a long time since Indiana depended upon a healthy Granger to provide the bulk of their nightly scoring punch.

A franchise player in the past, it is truly unfortunate that Granger’s last couple seasons have been marred by injuries and setbacks. A fresh start was likely the best option for both parties moving forward, and any concerns over the recent deal were all but erased in Turner’s debut on Tuesday against the Los Angeles Lakers.

After a relatively slow start to the game in which the Lakers actually pulled to within two points early in the third quarter, the Pacers unleashed a 42-17 run that effectively thwarted any upset aspirations the visitors may have had. Turner finished the game with 13 points, six rebounds, two assists and a steal in 26 minutes. He was 6-12 from the floor and +9 in his debut off Indiana’s bench.

Not that L.A. should feel ashamed by what eventually became a 20-point road loss, as it is no coincidence these Pacers now sit with the best record in the NBA. They are poised to make those types of runs against any and all teams, as these Pacers are constructed to hit you in waves.

Paul George is unquestionably one of the league’s best two-way players, and All-Star snub Lance Stephenson, while still unpredictable at times, is also continuing to develop into one of the league’s better young two-guards. The 23-year-old has nearly doubled his productivity in scoring, rebounds and assists, while his shooting percentage (49.8 percent) is almost four percent higher than any of his previous seasons in the NBA. Not to mention the fact that he also leads the league in triple-doubles with four thus far in 2013-14.

The Pacers are also one of the few teams that possesses the ability to run their offense through the post and punish teams that lack interior size and toughness. Even though Roy Hibbert hasn’t had quite the offensive impact some Indiana fans may prefer, he’s shown as recently as the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals he can punish an opponent if given the looks and focus. Not to mention the fact that both he and David West create one of the tougher defensive fronts in the league.

George Hill may appear to be a “no-frills” player, but he does have the ability to rise to the moment and increase productivity as needed. Hill has been steady all year, and appears far more comfortable in his leadership role this season.

Notice a name we haven’t even mentioned yet?

Andrew Bynum is reportedly still working himself into shape with their training staff, and could still be weeks away from being ready. Ian Mahinmi’s presence gives the Pacers all the time they need to fully assess what Bynum can offer the team. Although seldom used, Mahinmi was actually on that Dallas Mavericks team that won the title back in 2011 and did provide reserve minutes for Hibbert during last year’s playoff run. That said, the very reason Indiana’s front office was willing to take the risk on Bynum is specifically because of what the irrepressible big man could provide if healthy and focused. Indiana also has Luis Scola and Lavoy Allen down low, giving them one of the deepest frontcourts in the league.

Whether Bynum’s addition pans out or proves to be merely for insurance purposes, Turner’s addition really appears to have placed Indiana over the top. His ability to generate his own offense could be key, but he also gives the Pacers another perimeter defender to matchup specifically against a team like Miami. This is quite the luxury for head coach Frank Vogel, as he already has one of the best perimeter defenders in George and one of the best rim protectors in Hibbert. While visions of potential rotations and combinations of players may be something Vogel could have only dreamt of in the past, they are precisely what may haunt the nightmares of opposing coaches attempting to design effective game plans in the not-so-distant future.

Although the opening and semi-final rounds are likely to be more difficult for the top two seeds than most are anticipating, both the Pacers and HEAT do seem destined to eventually meet in the postseason once again. Home court may still hold some importance for Indiana, but they may be confident enough to handle a series or game regardless of the venue. One thing is certain: these Pacers are absolutely talented enough.

Jabari Davis is a senior NBA Writer and Columnist for Basketball Insiders, covering the Pacific Division and NBA Social Media activity.

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