With the NBA season less than a week away from officially starting, you’ve probably noticed we’ve been pumping out enough preview content to bury even Hasheem Thabeet. Over the next week, we’ll be taking a look at the 10 biggest storylines of the 2013-14 season. Today, we’re introducing you to the new age “Bad Boys” from Indiana…
*** *** ***
When you hear Bad Boys, four things come to mind: the Martin Lawrence and Will Smith movies, the Detroit Pistons, the theme song from Cops or Gabrielle Union’s bikini scene in Bad Boys 2. In this, we will only be talking about one of them – and sorry guys it’s not Gabrielle. From 1983-1992, the Detroit Pistons were perennial playoff, and eventual title contenders. A rugged group of competitors, led by Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer, Joe Dumars and the late coach Chuck Daly, that would leave you sprawled on the floor if it ensured victory, the Bad Boys feared no one.
Outside of perhaps Detroit’s 2004 championship squad, no NBA team in recent history has replicated that playground, backyard brawling style. Yet now the Indiana Pacers are trying to grind, hustle, claw and scrap their way to the top of the Eastern Conference – a spot held for the past three seasons by the finesse Miami Heat. In their heyday, the Bad Boys went toe-to-toe with Magic Johnson’s “Showtime” Lakers, Larry Bird’s Celtics and Michael Jordan’s Bulls for NBA supremacy. Behind the play of Thomas, a warrior and one of the best little men to ever lace ‘em up, and their “Jordan Rules” defensive strategy (putting Jordan on his backside as often as possible), the Pistons would win back-to-back titles in 1989 and 1990.
Thomas’ ferocity was the key component in Detroit’s rise to the top of the East after they selected him second overall in the 1981 NBA Draft. For Indiana, their turnaround began through the draft as well. A draft night trade in 2008 brought Roy Hibbert, the 17th overall selection, to the Pacers. While their warrior isn’t a “Mighty Mouse” type, the 7-2 behemoth is a force to be reckoned with as one of the game’s best defensive players. The next pieces came in the 2010 Draft when the team selected Paul George and Lance Stephenson in the first and second rounds, respectively. Finally, the signing of David West in the 2011 offseason rounded the group into focus, and all that was missing was a fiery and inspirational presence on the sideline. About halfway through the 2010-11 season, they found their man in Frank Vogel. The Pacers haven’t missed the playoffs ever since.
The Pistons were known for the occasional dirty play or cheap shot, especially from Laimbeer, and the Pacers have had a few elbows fly in their own right. There was Lance Stephenson’s smack talk during the team’s Eastern Conference Semifinals matchup against the Heat in 2012 as well as a dust-up with the Golden State Warriors last season that spilled over into the stands. Just as the Bad Boys before them, no team in the league is pushing the limits of physical contact like these Pacers. They relish it. They yearn for it. They need it to win.
The similarities don’t stop there either. In the Pistons first four years under Daly, they lost in the first round twice and advanced once to both the semifinals and conference finals. The Pacers first three years under Vogel started with a first round exit before they graduated to a semifinals loss. Then, last year ended in a highly contested, hard-fought seven-game series with their ultimate foe: the LeBron James-led Heat.
In a league that is moving away from traditional lineups and positions – just about every team is now trying to find a “stretch four” – the Pacers looked to the past to build a championship contender. Their focus on interior play and brute force is second to none.
A team that barely missed out on the NBA Finals last year added a healthy (hopefully) Danny Granger, as well as C.J. Watson, Chris Copeland and Luis Scola to their bench this summer, giving them more bodies, more fouls and more attitude. (Remember, Granger is one of the NBA’s toughest wing players.) The Pacers have only gotten more rugged. As the Bad Boys showed in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, it’s not always about highlight videos. If you win a championship… or two… you’ll make SportsCenter anyway.
Can Indiana win a title with this team?
Follow Brandon on Twitter at @DOTcom_2.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.