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David Aldridge: The Pacers. I was loud wrong about the Paul George trade; it’s not just that Indiana survived the loss of its best player, it seems to have gotten a franchise-level player in return in Victor Oladipo. As we went to the same high school (One DeMatha!), this pleases me, but I’m not going to pretend I saw this in Oladipo during his stints with the Orlando Magic and Oklahoma City Thunder. I believed Indiana would be a Lottery team and that that was the way it would have to rebuild. But Oladipo has had an All-Star season and Nate McMillan will get strong Coach of the Year consideration for the job he’s done. GM Kevin Pritchard should get some Executive of the Year nods, too; not only did he not listen to me and other members of the chattering class who insisted he got rooked by OKC, he also softly added a key free-agent piece in Bojan Bogdanovic (career-high 39.6 percent on 3-pointers this season) who has been crucial to the Pacers‘ rise, solidifying them at small forward in George’s stead.
Steve Aschburner: The Pacers are a bigger surprise, because they supposedly were cinches to land in the lottery without Paul George. The Blazers at least looked to many like a lower seed out West and were fare more of a known commodity. But what Indiana has done has been one of the league’s happier, unexpected stories, rallying around Victor Oladipo’s resurgence and truly tackling the long season as a cohesive team.
Shaun Powell: The Pacers win this contest and it’s not even close. Remember, they were universally targeted for last place after the Paul George trade, which was roundly criticized. Yet here it is, mid-March, and they’re still winning games. As good as the Blazers have looked lately, their rise is partly due to Kawhi Leonard’s injury and the continued confounding nature of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
John Schuhmann: In my Week 1 Power Rankings, I had Portland ninth in the West and 13th overall, and every West team I had above them is still in the playoff race. So, no major regrets there. I had Indiana 12th in the East and 26th overall, behind Orlando, Brooklyn and Sacramento. So, I’ll take the ‘L’ on that one and say that the Pacers‘ success is more remarkable. And maybe what’s most remarkable is that they’ve played so well without Myles Turner taking a real step forward until after the All-Star break. Victor Oladipo is a star, other guys have played well in their roles, they’re pretty relentless with their offensive attack and, with time, Turner has become a strong defensive anchor.
Sekou Smith: Both the Trail Blazers and Pacers being in the top three of the standings this late in the season is an absolute stunner, given the preseason prognostications for both teams. I give a slight nod to Portland, though, because the Western Conference playoff terrain is a bit tougher than what the Pacers have to deal with in the Eastern Conference. What great stories from both places, though. All-Stars Damian Lillard and Victor Oladipo have done yeoman’s work driving their respective teams to this point. Portland’s Terry Stotts and Indiana’s Nate McMillan should also get strong consideration on Coach of the Year ballots, as well. This is a great reminder, too, that nothing serves as a better motivator than diminished expectations. Lillard has been proving that from the moment he entered the league. And no one guessed the Pacers would be better after the Paul George trade. And yet, here they are — with a nice assist from Cleveland’s struggling bunch and John Wall’s injury absence in Washington.
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