I mentioned in the first edition of this feature that in the opening days of the season, I look for blowouts, especially unexpected ones. I believe that Indiana's eye-opening 95-79 dismantling of Boston on Saturday gave us our first qualifier on that account. The Pacers even led by as many as 25 points in the fourth quarter.
If you hadn't been taking Indiana seriously as an Eastern Conference playoff team, you certainly need to. Indy's first two games were against fearsome opposition -- at Detroit, then home against the defending champs -- and the Pacers played both games without Mike Dunleavy
, who ranked second on the team in scoring with 19.1 points last season.
Yet Indiana came out of those two games smelling like a rose. The Pacers played the Pistons very tough in the Palace before falling by six points in the opener, then ran the Celtics off the court on Saturday. For Indiana to come away from that twin bill at plus-10 suggests it might be even better than my optimistic preview
How'd the Pacers do it? Guard Marquis Daniels
has started in Dunleavy's place and, at least so far, has managed to hold down the fort (13.42 PER through two games). The trio of Rasho Nesterovic
, Troy Murphy
and Jeff Foster
has held down the middle now that Jermaine O'Neal
plays for the Raptors, while T.J. Ford
gave the team a wholesale upgrade at the point.
Dunleavy's knee problem is a real concern, especially if Daniels reverts to last season's form, but more help could be on the way, too. Indiana still has Jamaal Tinsley
hanging in limbo but might be able to parlay him into a rotation player if it plays its cards right on the trade market.
Yes, it's only two games, and 80 more of these things are left. But in this limited sample, Indiana is the team that has done the most to change my perception of it.