Indiana Pacers after 41 games: Intriguing

The Indiana Pacers have reached the midway point of the 2016-17 season. Safe to say things started a little shaky in November and December, but the future provides hope and intrigue.

There was always intrigue, but maybe not so much hope.

Perennial All-Star Paul George was coming off a career year in 2015-16 following his injury-shortened ’14-15 campaign. Sophomore Myles Turner entered training camp with a solid first year in his back pocket. Newcomers Jeff Teague, Thad Young and Al Jefferson offered a balance of experience, leadership and talent.

That was October, however. By year’s end, Indiana was sitting at 16-18 and glowing with inconsistencies. Poor defense, breakdowns in communication and a lack of rebounding doomed the Pacers.

A new year has benefitted the blue and gold, at least so far. Since January 1, Indiana has won six of its seven games in 2017 and sits three games over the .500 mark for the first time all season. As of Friday, that’s good enough for sixth in the Eastern Conference and 1.5 games out of fourth place as the intensity is sure to rise down the stretch.

Now there is hope with intrigue.

In order to accomplish what goals this team laid out for itself before the season, it must first complete any unsolved puzzles. Indiana needs to overcome its road woes or it will be a slugfest for one of the final playoff spots. And you can forget about advancing past the first round — if they get there — with an inability to capture road victories. A come-from-behind win in Sacramento Wednesday night was a welcome site for the Pacers, but it was just their sixth win away from Bankers Life Fieldhouse this season.

Improvement on the defensive side of the ball is a must. Indiana has allowed over 120 points seven times already through 41 games. In three of those games, they allowed over 130 points and gave up over 140 twice, most recently in an embarrassing 140-112 defeat at the hands of the Denver Nuggets.

More effort on this side of the ball and better communication should help those numbers.

The intrigue rests on the offensive end of the floor for these Pacers. We know George can score. But so can Turner, Teague, Young and Jefferson. Hiding within the second unit is CJ Miles and Monta Ellis, both capable of pouring in double-digits on offense, as they have done a number of times already under head coach Nate McMillan’s guidance.

Ball movement has been pristine in many cases this season. Setting screens, finding the open man and unselfishness are all qualities that have been crucial amongst this group of veterans and young players. Indiana is averaging nearly 106 points per game, but the potential to exceed that number on any given night is promising.

Again, the intrigue was always present, but now it’s amplified as the Pacers pick up steam.

McMillan took what once looked like a sinking ship and managed to keep it afloat. Indiana is now steering downstream toward open sea and the land of opportunity.

An opportunity for the Pacers to build off their momentum begins Friday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles against the Lakers. Including their matchup with LAL, seven of Indiana’s next nine games come against inferior opponents.

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