The Indiana Pacers' decentralized approach and lack of a signature star mean they often get overlooked by national NBA outlets (including, at times, this one) that can more easily entice reader interest with stories about high-profile All-Star types. They're cool with that, though; without the heat and glare of the mainstream spotlight, coach Frank Vogel's crew has put together a monster season, posting top-10 marks in both offensive and defensive efficiency (how many points a team scores and allows per 100 possessions) over the course of the year.
A season-long run of mostly good health and the opportunity to work together night in and night out has allowed Indiana to develop a critical quality that, as Reggie Hayes of The News-Sentinel notes, is "impossible to quantify: Chemistry."
[...] it's much easier to get along when you're winning, but togetherness and winning can be a chicken-or-egg question. In the end, it doesn't matter which came first, they're certainly intertwined.
"It's one of those things, like a good chef finding a recipe," [forward Danny] Granger said. "That tastes good with this. This tastes good with that. All of a sudden, you have a masterpiece."
The coming postseason, where Indiana looks likely to face either the Atlanta Hawks or the possibly-Dwight-Howard-less Orlando Magic in the opening round, will decide whether Vogel and general manager David Morway have actually made a "masterpiece" with this current crop of Pacers. But it's pretty clear that with just four games left before the end of the regular season, the coach has his team cooking.
After holding on late for a 102-97 road win over a desperate Philadelphia 76ers team on Tuesday night, Indy sits at 40-22, a mark good enough to be the NBA's fifth-best record and the Pacers' highest winning percentage (.645) since they won 61 games in the 2003-04 campaign. Indy holds a comfortable 3.5-game lead on the Hawks and Magic, their nearest challengers for the third seed in the Eastern Conference. They've won six straight, nine of their last 10 and 15 of their last 20, thanks in large part to a solidly balanced attack that puts pressure on opponents' first and second units alike.
No Pacer averages more than Danny Granger's 18.8 points per game, but all five Indiana starters — Granger plus center Roy Hibbert, power forward David West, swingman Paul George and point guard Darren Collison — score in double figures. On top of that, three key bench players — Tyler Hansbrough, draft-day import George Hill and trade-deadline acquisition Leandro Barbosa — chip in nine points a night or more. Indy rolls two-deep at just about every position — 11 active Pacers are averaging at least 12 minutes per game this year.
And while the starting five is Indy's main attaction, Vogel feels pretty comfortable that his team will maintain momentum when he makes a line change; the Pacers' most frequently used starting and bench lineups have both posted positive adjusted plus-minus and overall rating numbers, according to BasketballValue.com's five-man unit data. (Adjusted plus-minus aims to measure whether a given unit has a positive or negative impact on the score when on the floor; overall rating compares estimates of how many points a given lineup scores per 100 possessions with how many points it allows.)
The Pacers' Hansbrough-Barbosa-Hill-Louis Amundson-Dahntay Jones lineup isn't necessarily explosive, but it's versatile, energetic, consistent and experienced, which gives it a major leg up on most opponents' backups and means that Granger, Hibbert, West, George and Collison can often either come back into games with the leads they've developed still nearly intact or return without fear of having been dug into an insurmountable hole. Neither unit is especially flashy, but both are steady and reliable. That's definitely a recipe for regular-season success. But whether Indy's everything-in-the-pot stew will pay dividends in the postseason, where games are so often won and lost by stellar individual performances in tightly contested affairs, remains to be seen.