The Indiana Pacers were already the top contender to knock off the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference this spring, but they took a huge step towards making the Finals when they signed center Andrew Bynum.
Bynum, a consistent underachiever who recently spent time with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Philadelphia 76ers after breaking into the league with the Los Angeles Lakers, was once considered a potential franchise player and top-tier NBA big man. Those days are over, but he can still bring plenty to the table as a role player for the Pacers.
Indiana knows that nothing else matters this season except for whether or not they get past the Heat in the playoffs. That matchup is inevitable as they are the only two true contenders in the conference. And what the Pacers lack in star power they make up for in actual power down low.
Bringing in Bynum gives them another big body to throw at LeBron James and the rest of the Heat in the playoffs. While he isn’t going to be the dominant player many thought he would be just a couple of seasons ago when he was being compared to Dwight Howard as the best center in the league, he can give them quality minutes as a defensive force.
The Pacers have set everything up this season to beat the Heat in the playoffs. They know they won’t do it by outscoring them but rather by locking down the paint and forcing the Heat to beat them by shooting over the top. Last year they couldn’t do that because James took them down on the block when it mattered the most and willed the Heat to a win.
Miami is more vulnerable than ever this year. Dwyane Wade has been hurt, and the rest of the supporting cast is starting to show cracks. The Heat already have 13 losses on the season, and their vaunted defense is ranked a barely above average 10th in points against. If ever there was a chance for the Pacers to overtake them in the East, this is the year.
Bynum may not be the dominant player we all know he could have been, but he could be the tipping point in the budding Heat-Pacers rivalry.