May 30, 2014: Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (24) and center Roy Hibbert (55) possibly react to their second half of a season. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto Raptors Eastern Conference Preview: A Look at the Indiana Pacers

Sizing Up the 2014-15 Eastern Conference’s Potential

Who is the favourite to win the Eastern Conference next season? Many experts can’t answer this question. Where do the Toronto Raptors fit into everything? It’s hard to answer this question, too.

Everybody has a chance. Well, mostly everyone does… perhaps omitting Milwaukee from the conversation, but even they must be more excited than last year (but everything is relative, right?). But “mostly everybody” has a strong case for their team. Maybe we should review every team starting with how they finished last year?

This column will be a regular feature, looking at the NBA’s Eastern Conference and projecting where each contending team will finish. It begins at the top of the standings from 2013-14 and looks at the conference from the perspective of the Raptors.

indianaIndiana: Well, it’s hard to say the reigning first place team doesn’t have a chance. And I’m not going to do that. But, it’s also hard to say the team that ended the season barely conscious (in a bad, bad way) is still the favourite. It could, but it would be hard to make that wager on the Pacers.

The potential good: Indiana lost Lance Stephenson, who when not breathing in LeBron James‘ ear, was still seen as a sideshow and a distraction. Well he’s gone now (signed in Charlotte with the Bobcats – for more info on that development, click here), so will the distraction go, too? Indiana fans hope so… but Stephenson was nearly an all-star lest we forget, compiling more triple-doubles than anyone else last season. Indiana is banking that Paul George can get more touches and, thus, more shots (and regain his MVP first-half of the year) with the absence of Stephenson.

May 30, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Indiana Pacers guard Lance Stephenson (1) wipes his face during a game against the Miami Heat in game six of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

May 30, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Indiana Pacers guard Lance Stephenson (1) wipes his face during a game against the Miami Heat in game six of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The potential bad: Trying to cement itself as the clear-cut favourite over the Heat in the East (and maybe all of the NBA), Indiana sent Danny Granger to Philadelphia for Evan Turner. After that trade, “A significant piece of the Pacers’ fabric was ripped away. In these weeks since the trade, it’s almost as if the clock has been striking midnight on a Pacers season with so much invested,” wrote NBA.com’s Jeff Caplan.

Feb 19, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Danny Granger (33) against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Feb 19, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Danny Granger (33) against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Before the trade, the Pacers record was an astonishing 40-12. After the trade, a mediocre 12-8, with bad losses to weaker competition. What may be worse is that Granger was a free agent at year’s end and guess who got him? Arch-rival Miami, at a puny (respectively) two-year, $4.2 million deal. That’s a kick in the junk for Indiana fans, as he appeared to be the glue that held the team together.

More potential good: Turner will not be back with the team as he will be setting up shop in Boston this coming season. So, in either case: if Stephenson was a poison (which doesn’t explain the poor record after Granger), or if Turner was the poison (the case could be made that it was his presence that cursed Indiana), Indiana is looking to rid the toxic out of their locker room.

Last year’s Eastern Conference regular season rank: 1st place

This year’s potential pre-season FS rank: 5th place

But this team is a wildcard in every sense. Their record after the trade can’t be denied (and really, Indiana has a large window from first all the way down to ninth place. They may have a better record than the third place finisher because of the division winners, but we’re settling on fifth place.

NOTE: This preview was constructed prior to the gruesome injury of Paul George, so Indiana will be incredibly lucky to get 5th. Missing the playoffs now is much more likely

Where do you think Indiana will finish this season?

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Tags: Evan Turner Lance Stephenson Toronto Raptors

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