NBA Talk: This year's dark horses

Posted by Andrew Shi

The Nuggets currently hold fourth place in the West, in front of the Grizzlies and Warriors, yet more playoff chatter involves the latter two. The Nuggets just ended a nine game winning streak, starting it off with wins against the Thunder, the Pacers, the Rockets and Bulls, all current play-off contenders, yet no one seems to notice.

The Indiana Pacers are third in the East redeeming themselves after a loss to the Nuggets by trampling the Heat, the Bulls and the Hawks, the latter two in back-to-back games, and yet no one considers them a threat.

Both of these teams have been playoff contenders in recent years, and both are positioned to hold home-court in the playoffs, yet between the two teams, only one player will appear in the All-Star game on Feb. 17:Paul George of the Pacers. Perhaps that's why the two teams lack publicity; they lack the perennial All-Stars that play for the big name teams, even the ones that are ranked below the Nuggets and Pacers such as the Celtics, the Lakers, the Nets and the Grizzlies.

What's odd about that is that many of these players, including Ty Lawson, Andre Iguodala, Kenneth Faired and Danilo Gallinari of the Nuggets and David West, George Hill, Roy Hibbert and Danny Granger (pre-injury) of the Pacers, are all capable of putting up All-Star worthy numbers, but sacrifice the statistics that gain them the attention of the fans who vote for the starters of the All-Star game to provide their teammates with a better look on shots. Similarly, neither team has a designated go-to scorer, which means that no single player is recording twenty-plus points.

This lack of a star, though, is what makes these teams that much better. The pressure to carry the team is spread amongst five or six players who by no means could single-handedly lead a team too, but have now played together for long enough that their team chemistry redeems a lack of superstardom and allows domination of the courts.

Both of these teams are currently excelling at their respective winning strategies. The Nuggets are currently third in the league for most points scored per game, but 5th in points allowed. Clearly the focus of their game is on their offense. This probably seems obvious, but there is a distinction between the Nuggets' type of basketball and that of the Pacers, who are 28th in the league for points allowed, but have the second best defense. While they may be trailing in points scored per game, by focusing on preventing their opponents from making their shots, they can afford to take and make less of their own. It should also be noted that the Nuggets and Pacers are respectively first and second in rebounds.

While neither team has an obvious superstar that gains their teams the publicity necessary to put teams on the radars of the press or potential new fans, other NBA teams are certainly watching nervously as these two teams push for their first championship.

Right now only five teams are being seriously considered as championship contenders: the Heat, the Knicks, the Spurs, the Thunder and the Clippers, with the additional possibility of the Bulls once Derrick Rose returns. NBA fans should prepare to be shocked as the Nuggets and the Pacers, two dark horses, compete as veritable challengers in the offseason.

Undeserved opprobrium

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