NBA Preview — The Pacers’ Last Push?

As odd as it seems, this may be Paul George’s last push in Indiana

As Lance Stephenson returned to Indiana, the Pacers obliterated the Toronto Raptors last night. It was a great showing from a team that badly needed one, and put Indy a half game ahead of the Heat for the eighth seed in the East. If the playoffs started today, the Pacers would be in.

They’ve also been fueled by Paul George’s resurgence. George has been playing like a superstar over the last few games, more than making up for a somewhat disappointing season by his standards. However, given some of his recent comments, his contract situation, and the overall state of Indiana basketball, it’s quite possible that this may be the last time he pushes his team to the postseason.

George has one more year of free-agency left on his contract, and after that will be a free agent. Indiana can offer him max money at this point, but George likely won’t make an all-NBA team so that amount is somewhat limited. And as anyone familiar with the situation knows, the Los Angeles Lakers may be waiting in the wings to sign him.

The one year left on George’s contract shouldn’t be ignored. But if he doesn’t seem likely to re-sign with Indiana, the Pacers absolutely have to trade him. Even if the value of an expiring contract means they’re getting less value back, they still have to make that move. And perhaps that could mean a trade with the Lakers. ESPN’s Zach Lowe writes:

The Lakers? They might be the one team confident enough to wait for George’s free agency. George’s interest in L.A. is real, and widely known. But nothing is certain until you get that signature, and every day between now and that July 2018 day brings the risk of some unknown variable messing up your plans.

The one likely factor that could change this scenario is a playoff run this season. Let’s say that Indiana gets the seventh seed with a resurgent George, and somehow upsets Boston in the first round. I think at that point, they may be able to convince George that his best place for success is on their roster. Who knows, even pushing a series to six or seven games could do that too. But if this team gets swept, or loses uncompetitively in five, his departure (one way or the other) seems increasingly likely.

This is a really important postseason for the Pacers.

Predictions

I got both games right last night, moving to 2–1 for the week so far. Today, ESPN has two interesting games.

Cleveland at Boston: Boston

This game will probably decide home-court advantage for the playoffs, and all the circumstances favor the Celtics. They’re at home, and much more rested than the Cavaliers who are finishing a back-to-back. I’d still favor Cleveland in a seven-game series, but I’m not picking them in a game until they start to look better again.

Dallas at LA Clippers: Clippers

This one is fairly easy, as the eliminated Mavericks should only be thinking about their future right now. The Clippers also need this win — they’re one game behind the Jazz for fourth place. I don’t see a whole lot to watch here, there’s a clear favorite for this one.

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