Since the summer of 2010, when Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh formed the South Beach triumvirate, they have been on just about every teams radar as the squad to beat. Of course this season there wasn't as much “hate” directed towards them, but people still wanted to see their favorite team beat them, nonetheless.
The Chicago Bulls have been billed as Miami's top foe since the same summer and were regarded as the only team – at least in the Eastern Conference – good enough to take the Heat down.
While the Miami roster is comprised of nothing more than three of the best individual players in the NBA, the Bulls were constructed as a "team" in the traditional sense of the word. And just like the Dallas Mavericks proved in the NBA Finals last year, a good team always trumps a collection of individuals, no matter how supremely talented.
But while the Bulls brass has pretty much constructed the current roster to overcome Miami, should management be shifting their focus approximately 185 miles southeast of Chicago instead?
The Indiana Pacers have emerged as one of the surprise teams in the entire league. They went from eighth best last year to third best this year and that jump earned Larry Bird – former Boston Celtics great and Hall of Famer – Executive of the Year honors for the 2011-2012 season.
The Pacers are currently battling in the second round of the Playoffs against the Heat and hold a 2-1 series lead after blowing Miami out last night at Conseco Fieldhouse by a final score of 94-75. Like the aforementioned Mavericks and the Bulls, Indiana is a true team.
The core of the Pacers will be the same for the next two seasons at least and it stands to reason that with Rose's ACL injury, the 2012-2013 season will be a lost one for Chicago and if the Miami Heat fall short of their NBA Championship goal, Pat Riley is sure to make some changes this summer.
So as a result, have the Indiana Pacers – by default – become Chicago's main rival as opposed to the Heat?
The Pacers are a good team that has a great mix of young players, seasoned veterans and explosive athletes. They don't have any real “superstars” so most people overlook them, but Indiana has emerged as one of the best teams in the East by good coaching on behalf of Frank Vogel and by playing hard, especially on the defensive end of the floor.
Whether the Pacers win their series with Miami or not, it doesn't matter. Indiana seems to have arrived and are no longer a bottom feeder. Other teams in the NBA must now view them as a credible threat.