The Indiana Pacers were perhaps the biggest surprise in the NBA last season, winning 48 games on the heels of trading All-Star Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder. And wouldn’t you know it, December’s Eastern Conference Coach of the Year Nate McMillan might be exceeding expectations for a second straight year.
The Pacers have won 12 of their last 14 games in impressive fashion, knocking off teams such as the Kings, Bucks, 76ers and Pistons in the process. They’ve also feasted on lesser competition as part of this impressive stretch, not faltering against teams like Washington, Atlanta, Brooklyn and New York.
Their only losses during this stretch came on back-to-back nights against the Cavs, a division rival, and the East-leading Raptors.
They won four of those games without Victor Oladipo, last year’s Most Improved Player. That’s significant, because Indiana went 0-7 in games that their leading scorer missed last season Now Oladipo is back and fully healthy, and Indiana is rolling.
NBA betting Opportunities with the Pacers
NBA Central Division Betting
The Bucks haven’t been bad in December at all, reeling off 11 wins in their last 14 tries to sit atop the Eastern Conference as we near the halfway mark. They’ve been outstanding, and yet, they’ve actually lost ground in the Central Division standings.
Four of Indiana’s next six games come against teams with losing records, so there’s a shot they pass the Bucks at some point in January. That makes them legitimate contenders in the Central, with their +275 odds on 888Sport looking pretty good right about now.
But the Pacers couldn’t actually win the East, right? A conference with the Bucks, Raptors, 76ers and Celtics will be a gauntlet of a postseason, even with the boom of the conference looking awful. Not so fast. In the offseason they were a potential dark horse pick because of their impressive offseason and the fact they brought everyone back.
Now they’re looking even better in Year 2 and have wins over fellow East contenders in the process. This defense can carry them, and they have proven postseason scorers in guys like Oladipo, Myles Turner, Bojan Bogdanovic and Darren Collison. It’s a recipe for success in the playoffs.
They’ll never be the favorites in the East, even if they pass Milwaukee in the Central, but at +1800 they’re certainly worth a look. There isn’t a hotter team in the league, let alone the Eastern Conference. For what it’s worth, they are +7000 in NBA Finals betting odds, if you really want to take a flyer.
Secret to Pacers Hot Streak
They’ve committed to a slower style, ranking just 19th in pace since their hot stretch began on Dec. 4 with a win over the Chicago Bulls. They’ve locked in defensively, posting a defensive rating of 99.3 (the only team in the NBA under 100 in that span) and their offense has blossomed up to 110.1 during the streak.
Prior to their winning ways they had an offensive rating of 107.7 and a defensive rating of 104.0. Since Dec. 4 they have the league’s best net rating, as well as its best record.
Oladipo deserves credit, but so too does the resurgence of center Myles Turner. He’s shaken off an ugly start in which he averaged 11.3 points and 6.0 rebounds pre-Dec. 4. And during the Pacers’ run of 12 wins in 14 tries those numbers are up to 15.8 points, 9.2 rebounds, 3.2 blocks and 53 percent shooting.
He’s looked like the player the Pacers gave an $80 million extension to in the offseason, and there’s no reason to think he’ll slow down… even after he suffered a broken nose on Monday which he plans to play through.