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Indiana Pacers Stay Hot

The Indiana Pacers are 23-14 and first in the Eastern Conference’s Central Division. They have won four straight, and two of those victories came against the Miami Heat and New York Knicks, two of the best teams in the league. The Pacers are first in the entire NBA in points allowed, and second in rebounding, a big part of their success. Coupled with the emergence of Paul George as a legitimate NBA All-Star, Indiana is in prime position to make some noise in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Perhaps the biggest game of the Pacers’ season thus far was their game against the Miami Heat on January 8. The Heat were three point favorites, though the Pacers put on display the full talents of their burgeoning superstar George, who scored 29 points in a 87-77 Pacers win. It was the lowest amount of points that the Heat had scored all season. The real story, however, was George, who announced his place in the NBA hierarchy of up and comers.

“It’s a chance to for me to see where I’m at, going against one of the best, if not, the best in the league,” George said. “Another challenge to myself to go at LeBron. I definitely wanted to battle him.”

Even LeBron recognized the brilliance of the young player, complimenting him after the game.

“I see him playing with a lot of confidence and a lot of opportunities,” James said. “The simple fact that Danny Granger is hurt has created this opportunity for him to show what he can do. He’s doing everything. He was a good player last year, but we weren’t able to see it because he wasn’t a featured player.”

The Pacers emphasized their strength on the boards, inarguably Miami’s greatest weakness. Indiana outrebounded the Heat 55-36 on the night. That is the greatest reason why the Pacers are a solid pick to represent the Eastern Conferencei n the NBA finals; the East is wide open right now, and with their combination of defense and rebounding, there’s no reason the Pacers can’t make it that far. They’re currently favored at 18-1 to win the Eastern Conference.

“That was a big emphasis tonight,” George said of his team’s rebounding after the Miami win. “Miami is a team that, for as good as they are, they struggle with rebounding. We knew that coming in. We knew that we had to get the boards. And we’re bigger. We’re a big team.”

The Pacers have essentially been built to handle Miami; they’re strong inside, where Miami is the weakest. They know they still have something to prove, but they’re ready and willing to take on the current NBA champs.

“It’s always a confidence-booster, beating a team as good as Miami,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “What happened last year, this is not a redemption. Beating them in the playoffs would be a redemption. It’s just one win. We’re happy about it, but nothing more than that.”

“We just didn’t allow them to land that big blow that they usually land on teams,” David West said, who had a triple double in the Miami game. “They staggered us a little bit. But I thought we did a good job of staying on our feet and ultimately recovered. You can’t overreact to that. But we’re a different team than we were in that series.”

At 18-1 odds, the Pacers seem like a great bet to win the Eastern Conference at this point. Those odds are far too low for a team that can handle the Heat as easily as Indiana can.

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