Paul George injury badly hurts Pacers

George’s loss comes on the heels of Lance Stephenson’s departure to Charlotte in free agency, leaving Indiana without its two most versatile players. The Pacers had the Eastern Conference’s best record last season at 56-26 and could have been the favorite to reach the NBA Finals after LeBron James’ departure from Miami if they could have brought their core back.

Now, they could struggle just to stay in the playoff picture in the toughened-up East. James’ arrival in Cleveland, with Kevin Love perhaps still to come, could make the Cavaliers the team to beat. Or it could be Chicago, with Derrick Rose looking back in form after another surgery while playing for the Americans this week and with Pau Gasol joining the Bulls next season.

Washington and Toronto figure to keep building after their playoff appearances last season, Miami rebounded well after losing James to keep a competitive team together, and the Pacers without George might not be as good as any of them.

– Associated Press