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NBA Indiana Pacers

Indiana Pacers Can Still Make the Playoffs in 2014-15

David West, Indiana Pacers

Steve Mitchell-USA Today Sports

The Indiana Pacers were tagged as one of the teams to beat in the Eastern Conference in 2014-15. With the exception of Lance Stephenson, the Pacers are returning nearly all of the cast that were part of the 2013-14 Indiana squad that ran the tables in the East. And with the Miami Heat no longer a serious threat, the Pacers were looking to make the 2014-15 season the year they finally get over the hump.

But then came the ugly injury to their superstar, Paul George. And just like that, a season that was filled with so much promise, turned into dread. When I saw George get carried off the court in a stretcher during the 2014 FIBA World Cup scrimmage game, I immediately thought the Pacers’ upcoming season was toast.

But the more I think about it, the more I come to realize that the Pacers may still have an outside chance at making the playoffs. Why? David West is still the team’s heart and soul, and could very well churn out a big season in George’s absence. George Hill can certainly pull out a breakout year, and the bench still has enough capable parts to get things done.

But the wildcard for the Pacers is Roy Hibbert. With their primary scorer gone, Hibbert is going to have to step up and become the player who we all thought he could be. He has to become the dominate man in the middle, and if he can, then the Pacers’ chances of making the playoffs will be greatly increased.

Making their chances better is the fact that they play in the East. There are only five sure fire teams that will make the playoffs in 2014-15, and the other spots are wide open for the taking. The Pacers can certainly grab one of those spots if the aforementioned tandem of West and Hibbert produce big seasons, and the Pacers continue to play suffocating defense.

The Pacers of 2014-15, barring a trade, are not contenders in the East. But if the Pacers can sneak into the playoffs as an eighth or seventh seed, then that will be a great accomplishment, and send a statement that despite the loss of their leader, the Pacers still have heart, hustle and pride.

Kareem Gantt covers the NBA for Rant Sports. For more from this author, ‘follow’ him on Twitter, ‘like’ him on Facebook, and ‘add’ him to you network on Google