COMMENTARY | The Indiana Pacers, winners of 19 of their first 22 games on the NBA season, have once again made their statement as best team in the NBA.
Though 4-2 in their last six games, the Pacers just wrapped up the toughest portion of their entire schedule, and quite possibly the most brutal six-game stretch in the league this season.
Heading into the road trip, many pegged this as the first true test for Indiana. Facing a six-game stretch featuring two back-to-backs and five of the NBA's top 10 teams, 4-2 against this schedule seemingly was the benchmark. Indiana achieved 4-2, winning against the Los Angeles Clippers, Utah Jazz, San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat, while losing to the Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder. Both of Indiana's losses came on the second night of their back-to-backs.
Now, boasting the best record in the league and weathering a rough schedule to prove its toughness, Indiana can now firmly make a statement -- it is, without a shadow of a doubt, the best team in the NBA.
Anyone skeptical of Paul George's hot start is now silenced. George averaged 27.7 points per game on 47.8 percent shooting in the six-game stretch, highlighted by his seven three-pointers made during a 43-point outing in a loss to Portland. George was shooting 46.9 percent from behind the arc during the stretch.
The only Indiana Pacer who really seemed to struggle throughout the road trip was guard Lance Stephenson. Stephenson averaged only 9.8 points and 5.2 rebounds per game, down from his 14.9 points and seven rebounds averaged before December. At times, "Bad Lance" made his appearances. Stephenson now has four technical fouls on the year after only having six all of last season.
Regardless of Stephenson's struggles, the Pacers did what the Pacers do best -- find a way to win. It's not always the same player every night, now with the exception of Paul George. After George, there is always someone different stepping up for this squad. In Indiana's win over Miami, Roy Hibbert led everyone with 24 points and five rebounds. The previous win, a 111-100 victory over the San Antonio Spurs, was led, behind George's 28 points, by forward David West with 20 points and eight rebounds.
As long as Indiana exhibits this "anybody, any day" mentality, and paired with the depth that the play of reserves C.J. Watson and Luis Scola have created, there isn't a team in the Association that can boast what Indiana has. Size, strength and now a "big market" mentality.
Can we just fast forward to the Eastern Conference finals already?
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics were courtesy of ESPN.com.
Joe Tacosik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and a Yahoo Sports contributor. You can read Joe's writings here, on BleacherReport.com and his freelance writing at JoeTacosik.com
You can also follow Joe on Twitter (@JoeBobTaco).
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