Originally posted on NESN.com  |  Last updated 5/22/13
After a month of some of the most compelling playoff action basketball fans have seen in a while, the fight card for the Eastern Conference Finals is in. While the two clubs vying for the ticket to the big show have each proven themselves over the course of the postseason, the reigning champion Miami Heat are still wildly regarded as NBA betting favorites. That’s not to say, however, that the Indiana Pacers aren’t getting their share of attention from critics, oddsmakers and diehard hoops fans alike. Such is life when a once-overlooked midwestern franchise takes the basketball world by storm, making short work of the New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks in the first two rounds of the NBA playoffs. These days, while the Heat still sit atop the NBA futures with 1-3 odds of winning the title, the Pacers are acknowledged as a legitimate threat. Though few have shown glimpses of an ability to retain Heat superstar LeBron James, Indiana swingman Paul George is among the short list of those who possess the potential. In addition to his defensive prowess, athleticism and sheer length on the wing, George has exhibited an offensive touch that has put him on the household radar. No longer just a fringe All-Star over whom league coaches and scouts drool, George edges closer and closer to superstardom with each Indiana victory. George alone, however, won’t be enough to get this Pacers ball club past the back-to-back NBA Finalists Heat. Miami, with James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and Ray Allen, has been on the fast track to the 2013 crown since, well, they adorned the 2012 crown. That’s why, no matter how impressive George has been this spring — or how competent big men Roy Hibbert and David West have been for the Pacers in their frontcourt — Indiana has just 16-1 odds of winning the NBA championship. These are just numbers, sure, but they serve as a quantifiable indication of where the public stands on the series. We would love to see an underdog like the Pacers thrive under the national spotlight of the Eastern Conference Finals, but we’re reluctant to accept it as a reality. Fortunately for basketball fans, that just sets the stage for an even sweeter best-of-seven series. The Heat may end up pushing their way through to their third conference title in as many years, but you’d be naive to think that a hardy collection of thoroughly balanced, criminally underrated Pacers aren’t capable of at least stealing one or two victories and making things interesting. This post is presented by Bovada.

This article first appeared on NESN.com and was syndicated with permission.

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