By Nick Steblenko
For those of you who followed the beginning of my own personal Hobbit’s Tale, you know that I moved to the Bay Area a little over a year ago. The teams, and the fans who support them, are truly a great bunch.
However, being that I grew up loving my own select group, I would not abandon my own teams and adopt new ones. That, my friends, would cause an uproar.
Around this time last year, the NHL playoffs were beginning to take shape, and the favorites were cast by experts from February through April. My Devils weren’t one of them.
The usuals came out. Some said Penguins, others Canucks. Of course, the Rangers were no doubt a sexy pick.
No one talked about the Devils.
The similarities between the favorites is always glaring. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin leading Pittsburgh. Henrik Lundqvist in net for New York, who could beat him? The Canucks had just won their second straight President’s Trophy. It seems as though the media has latched on to the idea that having super stars is the most obvious way to win a championship these days.
I wonder where that idea could have come from? (*cough* *NBA* *cough* *segue you idiot*)
Oh, yeah, right!
Okay, so the idea doesn’t come directly from the NBA. I mean, the truth is that having superstars in the NBA gives you a huge advantage in many ways and has proven to be effective over the course of NBA history. However, as a sports fan at heart, one of the greatest stories to be told is the development of a true team. A group formed around the idea that selfless sacrifice leads to glory. When you can trust your fellow man to get the job done night in and night out.
In today’s game, that notion has been lost in the clouds somewhat. LeBron and the Miami Heat now lead a class of teams that rely on star power to get them to the top. While it can be, at times, entertaining, the real amazement lies with the underdogs who must overcome the greatness of individuals and stand upon the shoulders of giants.
With everybody focused on James, Kevin Durant, and Kobe Bryant the past three or four seasons, the Indiana Pacers have quietly become a player in the Eastern Conference. Larry Bird and co. have developed the Pacers into a complete team and Frank Vogel, who was handed the job 2 years ago, has grown a stock of young talent into a machine clicking on all cylinders. They are 7-3 in their last ten games and have beaten some tough opponents this year.
The kicker to the whole equation? They are winning without a top 25 player in scoring, assists or rebounds. Although many experts have called Paul George an emerging star, the fact is that he leads the team with just over 17 points per game.
The credit goes to the Pacers’ front office. In the past four years, Indiana drafted Roy Hibbert, Tyler Hansbrough and Paul George. They have acquired David West, who is second on the team in scoring, and George Hill, and have some young talent brewing in Ben Hansbrough and Miles Plumlee. While they sit in fifth place right now, the Pacers have been able to hover around the top half of the Eastern Conference for most of this season.
The argument against Indiana is that, come playoff time, they will be subjected to a thorough beat down at the hands of the mighty. The Heat, Knicks and Nets all have star power on their side. Even the Bulls are slated to see the return of Derrick Rose after the All Star break, so how do they even stand a chance?
Well, the Pacers have shown that they can match up with each of those teams so far this season. While the only team they haven’t beaten out of the top four so far is the Brooklyn Nets, the Pacers have shown a tremendous ability to play solid basketball every night. This is because they don’t ride on the shoulders of one man, but the group as a whole.
When George is off, West can pick up the slack. When Hibbert can’t get it done inside, they can switch it up and go with Psycho-T. Lance Stephenson has excelled in his third year as a pro and is fifth on the team in scoring. The goods come from all around and they can present problems for even the best teams. The one on one match ups become very important in the playoffs, but when you go down the line, Indiana has depth that other teams don’t.
While LeBron and Dwyane Wade certainly outclass Paul George and Lance Stephenson, will Chris Bosh be able to beat Hibbert and West down low? Or in that same respect, would Jason Kidd be able to keep up with a youthful backcourt of Stephenson and George Hill?
Of course, this early in the season, playoff match ups are purely speculative, the Pacers have put themselves in a position to shock the world. Much like the Baron Davis-led Warriors of 2007, the Pacers could take out a top dog that they match up well against. All it takes is a team effort and the will to win and anything is possible. The Devils illustrated this point beautifully, and although they fell just short of their fourth Stanley Cup, they proved that giants can be toppled.