It wasn't long ago that I accepted that this Indiana Pacers team, without Danny Granger at least, was going to be a grind-it-out team that would rarely pull away from opponents. They were good defensively, but the near-league-bottom offense was always going to hold them back.
Before the All-Star break, the Pacers started putting together some solid offensive games, mostly at home. It got me wondering whether they might finally be able to combine that with their defensive mindset -- which had been slipping a bit to that point -- to turn it into real dominance.
Well, they have, at least for the last couple of games. The Pacers first blew out the New York Knicks -- with Carmelo and Shumpert -- 125-91, in a game that wasn't close after the first quarter, and then blew out the Detroit Pistons 114-82. That's two games in a row where they have beaten their opponent by at least 30 points and held them under 100 points. Actually, add the Charlotte Bobcats blowout 101-77 just before the break, and that makes it three in a row. Never thought I'd see something like this.
Players are getting their confidence back during this stretch. They appear to finally believe they are an elite team. Paul George is starting to believe he is a superstar. Lance Stephenson has turned into a beast on the break and in pushing the pace. DJ Augustin appears to finally be filling the role he was meant to fill after stinking up the joint at the start of the season. Second round pick Orlando Johnson has turned into a valuable role player and a deadly shooter (as evidenced by his 14 points last game). Jeff Pendergraph is showing more consistent brilliance. The only guy who has continued to play poorly is Gerald Green, though hopefully all these garbage minutes he has been playing as of late can help him shoot his way out of a long slump. And did I mention that Roy Hibbert has looked less depressing? He's hasn't turned the corner yet, but he might be getting close.
It isn't just having the offense click, either. The Pacers vaunted defense has showed signs of returning to full strength. The team is also more focused and jumping out to strong leads and not relenting as opponents try to come back, repelling wave after wave of attacks. This is starting to look like a mentally resilient team that believes it can do serious damage come playoff time.
Most of all, this is all happening without Danny Granger, who continues to sit out as he gets ready to return from a knee injury. According to Mike Wells from the Indy Star, Granger is set to return tonight against the Pistons in Detroit.