February consolidated power in the Eastern Conference. There’s still plenty of dreck down low, but after that trade deadline, it’s getting a little frothy up top. The Bucks acquired another flamethrower in Nikola Mirotic, the Raptors added large hirsute playmaker Marc Gasol, the Sixers rounded out their insane starting lineup with Tobias Harris, and the Celtics ... have not won a game since the All-Star break. Amid all that, still in third place even after losing Victor Oladipo to a ruptured quad tendon, are the Indiana Pacers.
The Pacers lost their next four games after Oladipo’s gruesome injury, then won 9-of-12 in February, while enjoying a relatively soft schedule and an extremely tough Bojan Bogdanovic. The guy who memorably gave LeBron fits last postseason is now thriving under the demands of a Pacers team thirsty for some buckets. In Oladipo’s absence, Bogdanovic has had to bump his usage up from 21 percent in December and January to 27 percent in February, and his sharp-shooting more or less held up under the increased load. Last month, Big Bojan rung up 23 points a game on 41 percent shooting from deep. (Somehow, because he started this season unconscionably hot, that’s a tiny downtick from his 43 percent season average.)
Thursday night, Bogdanovic hung 37 on the flailing Timberwolves, including nine straight in the clutch to secure the 122-115 win. Indiana’s offense, thin on aggressive ball-handlers, is unlikely to find shots off probing drives or isolations, as most decent teams can. Nobody’s there to stir the drink. But the Pacers can shoot and pass competently enough, and Bogdanovic does a good job of getting himself into positions where his limited but potent arsenal can work. When the Pacers spring him into the lane with a head of steam, he’s a menace who relishes contact. Off the ball, he’s apt to cut right through an inattentive defense and right to the rim, or scurry around screens for way-too-open threes.
Indiana has the fourth-strongest schedule in the league to close out the season. This dream spell might not last long. (It’d probably last a little longer if they actually shot some threes, but alas.) But nothing ever lasts, it’s Friday afternoon, and you might as well sit there and watch Bojan Bogdanovic cook.