The Indiana Pacers have won five of their last six games and continue to creep away from the favorable draft lottery spots.
Indiana pulled off an impressive 108-99 win in their most recent outing versus the Portland Trail Blazers where they prevented their opponents from scoring a single field goal over the last seven and a half minutes of the contest.
While the Pacers may not be the best or even a top defensive team in the league (They are 22nd in Defensive Rating this season), they do not lack for effort and it translated into a spectacular victory against Portland.
Six different Indiana players scored in double digits, led by the sixth overall pick of the 2022 NBA Draft Bennedict Mathurin. The 20-year-old rookie is currently second in points per game among reserves, behind only Christian Wood of the Dallas Mavericks, and his 19 points against the Blazers played a key role in the Pacers’ win.
Indiana was also boosted by the performance of eight-year veteran Myles Turner who is the team’s longest tenured Pacer. Turner, third in the NBA in blocks per game in this campaign, scored 17 points and added seven rebounds, two assists, and two blocks.
The 26-year-old center remains one of the most coveted assets in the league among aspiring contenders, but the recent play of Indiana suggests that they may be better off keeping him and retooling their roster for playoff contention next season instead.
It is no secret that the biggest reason for the Pacers’ surprise play though is Tyrese Haliburton. The third-year guard was acquired almost a year ago for two-time NBA All-Star Domantas Sabonis before the 2022 NBA Trade Deadline and has blossomed into one of the best guards in the entire league since.
Haliburton, who leads the NBA in assists per game with 10.2 a contest, had 15 points, four rebounds, 12 assists, and a steal versus Portland. The fact that this could be considered just an “average” game for Haliburton is proof of how far he has come in his brief time with Indiana.
The 22-year-old leads the league in assist percentage (The percentage of teammate field goals a player assisted while he was on the floor) and his steady hand has orchestrated this team into respectability.
Indiana is now 22-18 this season which puts them in seventh place in the Eastern Conference. They are above four East teams in the standings that had playoff aspirations before this season–the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks, and Toronto Raptors–and are closer to the first seed (5.5 games behind) than the last place team (12 games ahead).
While this team still has a long way to go before reclaiming their place as a legitimate Eastern Conference contender, it is clear that they have the building blocks in place with Haliburton, Turner, and Mathurin. They are a pair of solid forwards away from making a leap up the standings and they could potentially give their young big men Jalen Smith and Isaiah Jackson more playing time down the stretch to determine whether they have a place in their future plans.
These Pacers have been one of the most entertaining teams to watch this season and it will be interesting to see whether they make a move over these coming weeks in the build-up to the trade deadline or keep this core together for their future.