Two seasons ago the Indiana Pacers were the little-team-that-could, the annoying younger brother who refused to shut up until they received a face full of fist from older brother Chicago in the first round of the playoffs. Last year, the Pacers navigated a grueling lockout-shortened season and improbably found themselves at home with a 2-1 series lead and double-digit third quarter lead in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the mighty Miami Heat, only to see their visions of the East Finals slip away faster than a LeBron James-led fastbreak.
Now, Indiana faces hearty expectations at home, not to mention 11 games on national television. Can George Hill, Paul George and Roy Hibbert continue to blossom? Can Danny Granger and David West stay relatively healthy? Is the bench capable of scoring points?
Here are six fearless predictions — three for the Pacers, a trio for the rest of the Association — to mark down before the season begins today.
Pacers win the Central Division
Indiana last captured the Central in 2003-04, which was also last year the Pacers reached the East Finals. Detroit, teeming with young talent in Brandon Knight, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, figures to provide the biggest intradivisional competition for the first half of the season with the Bulls figuring out how to play without former league MVP Derrick Rose (out with an ACL injury).
Though Chicago went 18-9 without Rose in 2011-12, replacing the original members of the ‘Bench Mob’ has left the Bulls older and slower in its reserves.