By now, you’ve probably all seen or heard about the gruesome injury suffered by the Indiana Pacers’ Paul George. While participating in a Team USA scrimmage, George broke his leg, and is likely lost for the 2014-2o15 season. I won’t add photos or GIFs, as they are too dreadful to look at. I viewed one – that was more than enough.
The Pacers, on every pundits’ list of Eastern Conference contenders a month ago, now have lost two of last season’s starters. Lance Stephenson, their talented though slightly bent small forward, signed as a free agent with the Charlotte Hornets. The Pacers will need to seriously scramble to find a swingman who can at least paper over the loss of George. Finding someone as skilled as George, whether by trade, free agency or internal promotion, is highly unlikely.
The news about George’s loss impacts Indiana severely. I’m in the process of preparing my ’14-’15 season NBA forecast, and the East is in serious flux at the top. Miami is still reeling over the defection of LeBron James, and Indiana front-line talent has taken two severe blows. In ’13-’14, both those teams finished with win totals in the mid-fifties, but I think they will be hard-pressed to win 40 when the new season tips in October. Our team, the Toronto Raptors, finished third with 48 wins. Can we brush past both of these wounded giants, and climb to the top of the East standings?
A glib answer would be “Yes” – and it would also be the right one. It’s time to aim very high. Of last year’s playoff teams, who’s better? Assuming Derrick Rose is finally healthy, the Chicago Bulls will win more than 44 games. I think Charlotte can hold its ground, and Atlanta may be slightly improved. The Washington Wizards will definitely be in the playoff hunt, although they will miss Trevor Ariza more than they think. Brooklyn has taken a step back.
Of the non-playoff teams, the Cleveland Cavaliers are poised to win 15-20 more games than last season’s 33. LeBron and his talented Canadians (with or without Kevin Love) are going to be a load. Orlando should be better than 23 wins, and I like Boston’s core. Everyone else will be moving around deck chairs on the Titanic. There are respected analysts who think the Detroit Pistons will be better than the Raps. I think they need to re-examine their medication.
To me, the Cavs, Bulls and Raps are poised to be the Beasts of the East. But that prediction could fall to the wayside in the first practice of Toronto’s (or Cleveland’s or Chicago’s) training camp. Injuries can happen to anyone, with no warning, and can strike a team multiple times. We make predictions, but remain humble.