Following a four-month hiatus as a result of COVID-19, the NBA is getting ready for a long-anticipated league restart. Beginning on July 31st, the top 22 teams will compete at Disney World’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla. Given that there will be a secured “bubble”, concerns over the spread of COVID-19, and no fans, it’s safe to say that this will be a season finish unlike any other. Taking the unique NBA landscape into consideration, the Last Word on Pro Basketball staff continues this contenders or pretenders series with the Indiana Pacers.
NBA Disney Bubble Contenders or Pretenders: Indiana Pacers
Uncertainty Surrounding the Stars
One of the most important things for any team trying to make a run at the finals is having star power. The Pacers do have stars, but there is lots of uncertainty regarding their status when play resumes. It has yet to be announced whether Victor Oladipo will return to play or continue his rehab on the sidelines. He has been participating in the team scrimmages so far, which is a promising sign. Indiana is a very well-run organization, but it’s hard to picture them making a serious run at the title without Oladipo.
Perhaps the biggest question surrounding this team is whether or not Domantas Sabonis will be available to play. It was announced days ago that Sabonis had sustained a major foot injury and would be leaving the bubble to get treatment. Expect him to be absent for Indiana’s seeding games, but getting him back for the playoffs is still a possibility. After making his first All-Star team of his career, the Pacers will be anxious to get him back as soon as possible.
Stiff Competition Ahead
Even if the Pacers are at full strength, they still have a tough road ahead. They currently have a losing record against many of the top teams in the east. The most notable are the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, and Miami Heat. The Pacers have been very impressive this season, but have fallen short against top talent.
If either Sabonis or Oladipo is unable to go, this will make it much tougher. The east is loaded with talent and the Pacers don’t have a winning record against anyone near the top. If Indiana isn’t fully healthy or at the top of their game, don’t expect them to make it past the first round of the playoffs.
Indiana will likely enter the playoffs at the fifth or sixth seed and play the Boston Celtics or Miami. Both of these teams are loaded with a desired blend of stars and depth. Boston and Miami are both completely healthy and look ready to make a run at the Finals. Everyone will have to be at their best to make it past round one.
Role Players Need to Step Up
With the status of both Oladipo and Sabonis up in the air, role players are going to need to step up. They have a deep roster of players who fill a specific need. They are going to need to do more than this if they hope to make a finals run. This will all start with center Myles Turner. Turner has had a solid season averaging 11.5 points and 6.5 rebounds a game. While these numbers are solid, he will have to take on a larger role both offensively and defensively to give Indiana a chance.
The guards will also have to step up their game and start scoring at a higher clip. Malcolm Brogdon and Justin Holiday are good examples. Both play at a steady rate with Brogdon averaging over 16 points per game, and Holiday averaging 8. If Oladipo is able to play, then they may not need to shoulder more of the load. If he can’t, however, then both of these players will need to step up.
Indiana Pacers Verdict: Pretenders
While the Pacers are a very well-run and balanced team, they just have too many question marks to be labeled as contenders. Sabonis looks unlikely to play heading into the playoffs which severely hinders their chances. Oladipo looks like he might be able to go, but he’s still not back to full strength.
If everyone plays and role players are able to step up, then they may have a chance. That does look unlikely though, which makes getting through teams like the Bucks, Raptors, and Celtics near impossible. Don’t rule them out, but also don’t count on them making it very far.
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