Naysayer: Look Out Indy, Sports Teams Will Be Relevant

The planets finally seem to have aligned for Indy to surge to national prominence with more teams than at any time in recent memory.

THE INDIANAPOLIS professional sports scene just became one of the best in America. The Pacers, the Colts, and the Fever rosters are now packed with potential all-stars. The outlook for all three teams includes playoffs and potential championships when just a short time ago, those weren’t in the cards.

The Pacers are in the NBA Playoffs without having to prove themselves with a play-in game. Rick Carlisle has a solid starting five and probably the best bench players in the league. In fact, the bench, led by Obi Toppin, T.J. McConnell, Andrew Nembhard, and Jalen Smith, is averaging a league-leading 46.8 points per game.

I was a big fan at the beginning of the season, but with the addition of Pascal Siakam in January, the potential of this team went through the roof. Myles Turner—thank God the Pacers didn’t trade him to LA—is the heart and soul of the Blue and Gold. He has been the leader on and off the court all year. 

The transformation of point guard Tyrese Haliburton into a superstar, then into an All-Star, and now into an Olympian has been amazing to witness. Not since Reggie Miller have the Pacers had a rock-solid, go-to player who can and will make a shot in the clutch. He has a Steph Curry shot, LeBron James guts and talent, and Kyrie Irving ability to drive the orange to the hoop any time on anyone.

The Pacers finished the season at 47-35 and sixth in the Central Division. Not too shabby for a team that finished 11th, 13th, and ninth the last three years, keeping them out of the playoffs. When they did make the playoffs from 2015 to 2019, they lost in the first round with a 6-20 record.

But this year, they don’t have to look over their shoulders or be content with simply making the playoffs. This year, they can make a run at the title. Playing Milwaukee in the first round is great. I’m much happier with that lineup than with the prospect of having to beat the New York Knicks in the first round.

I’m with Stephen A. Smith, who says the Pacers have had the third-seeded Bucks’ number this season. The Bucks will be without two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo for the first game or two of the upcoming playoff series because of injury, but the Pacers will win whether the Bucks have Antetokounmpo or not. Indiana beat Milwaukee four out of five matches this season, with the only loss coming when Antetokounmpo dropped 64 points on the Pacers in December.

After the first round, the Pacers will play either the Knicks or Cleveland and then eventually the Celtics to get into the finals. Do I think they are capable of going all the way? Yes. Am I convinced they will? That remains to be seen. But even so, the Pacers stock is on the rise and should be solid for the next several years.

The Colts, following up on their surprise playoff year with now-gone backup quarterback Gardner Minshew, look to be even better. Anthony Richardson is back at QB. Let’s hope his injury has healed and he becomes a drop-back passer or will start handing off to Jonathan Taylor, who had spurts last year but was also hampered by injury for the better part of the season. 

As for receivers, Michael Pittman Jr. separated himself from the pack as a true star in the league last year, and all can assume (yes, I know what happens when you assume) he will be even better this year with the accuracy of Richardson’s rifle arm.

On defense, the Colts spent megabucks and resigned DeForest Buckner at tackle, which makes the fan base very happy. Defensive end Kwity Paye will continue to pressure the opposing quarterbacks like last season, and, along with JuJu Brents, Nick Cross, Jaylon Jones, and Kenny Moore II cruising the secondary, Big Blue will have plenty of great hip-thrusting plays all season long. I’m looking for a deep playoff run by the Colts, barring any season-ending injuries like they had last season. 

Then we have the Indiana Fever. Has anyone tried to buy a ticket or a jersey lately? We all watched as the excitement around and the stock of this once-fledgling team has risen each year, especially since superstar Caitlin Clark announced earlier this year she was entering the draft and her coming to Indiana became a foregone conclusion.

The yet-unproven Iowa star will join two of the best young talents in the league. Aliyah Boston, last season’s Rookie of the Year and No. 1 draft pick, stands to perform even better than her initial year, and 6-foot, 4-inch NaLyssa Smith, the 2022 No. 2 pick who averaged over 15 points and nine rebounds a game last season, will continue to stand out. 

But what has head coach Christie Sides most excited is pairing Smith and Kelsey Mitchell with each other in the back court. With two prominent 3-point shooters on the outside, the middle should open wide for Boston and Smith, so the Fever will have a balanced inside-out attack. Mitchell made 497 3’s at Ohio State and was a WNBA All-Star last season, and we all know what Clark did this year with Iowa.

The Fever have not made the playoffs since 2016 and finished last season with a 13-27 record. Some would say that is a poor record, but the team had more wins last year than in the previous two seasons combined.

With every game sold out, 90 percent of Fever games being broadcast on national television, and opposing teams starting to book Fever games in larger arenas, this is rare air for this team, for sure. And I, for one, am looking forward to all of it.