The Indiana Pacers, according to All-Star forward Paul George, are ready to come after LeBron James and the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
PG is gunning for LBJ’s crown in 2016-17.
— Michael Lee (@MrMichaelLee) September 23, 2016
George, 26, believes he can lead Indy past Cleveland and into the Finals.
“Honestly, I look at us challenging them. I’ve been in the East and I’ve been No. 1 with LeBron being on a team,” George said, harkening back to when the Pacers finished with the best regular-season record in the East in 2013-14, the season before his gruesome Team USA leg injury. “Really, what I’m looking at is it coming down to me getting us past the conference finals. … I’m confident in myself. I’m confident in what I can do.”
George’s playoff duels with James established him as a star on the rise but never a rival, especially because he never won. Overcoming the adversity of the past two years, however, has given George a better sense of what he’s achieved and more belief that he belongs on a similar stage. “I’ve always matched up with him like, ‘I know he can do this, I know he can do that,’ ” George said about James. “Not in an awe fashion, but it’s more so, ‘I’m not supposed to win these games. This is supposed to be the best dude in the NBA. I’m trying to challenge him. I know what I’m up against.’ Now it’s, ‘I’m ready. I’m ready for you. I’m a veteran. I know you, you know me. Let’s meet here, let’s get this job done.’ I’m prepared. I’ve had time to figure this out. I’ve had time to lick my wounds. I’m ready.”
The Cavaliers remain the favorite to send James to a seventh consecutive NBA Finals appearance this season, but George has been encouraged about the Pacers’ prospects after many of his new teammates began gathering for summer workouts in Indianapolis while he was chasing gold in Rio de Janeiro. “They made that commitment to come early and want to be here, and that’s something else,” George saidl. “This is probably the most excited I’ve been for a team, coming into the season. I think we have a lot of weapons, a lot of options. We’re very underrated for what we have over here. With everything that I’ve grown from this Olympic run, to the closing of last playoffs, I feel like I’m ready and poised for a big year.”