It was a shaky start to the season for Paul George and Indiana Pacers, and the All-Star forward was having difficulties dealing with the struggles. 

By the end of December, the Pacers were 16-18. Now, at the beginning of February, they stand at 28-22 and are just two games back of the third-seeded Washington Wizards. Not everything was clicking for Indiana to start the year, and it was expected after the moves they made in the offseason.

Most notably, Jeff Teague and Thaddeus Young came over from the Atlanta Hawks and Brooklyn Nets, and head coach Nate McMillan also had to deal with gelling issues. It happens to work out that November and December are the first two full months of NBA basketball, and George told Jeff Zillgitt of USA TODAY that he was in an awful place:

“I was in a dark moment, a low moment. I had a bunch of ankle injuries going on. The team wasn’t meshing well. The chemistry between myself and Jeff (Teague) wasn’t where it should’ve been. … I’m the guy who has to bring it on both ends, and I wasn’t feeling like I was capable of doing it physically. So it was wearing on me.

Coming from USA Basketball and mentally and physically just being drained from basketball – starting a new season out, not fully being 100, having some bruises and some injuries – it took me time to work through that.”

He played a nice chunk of minutes during the Olympics and was someone who the United States needed to lean on for offensive and defensive production. As he got the season kicked off, it was more than just making sure he was confident. If anything, being the go-to guy was more important as the team tried to get everyone on the same page.

Over the first 34 games for Indiana, PG suited up for 27 of them and averaged 22.2 points on 44.7 percent shooting, 6.6 rebounds and 1.8 steals in a tick more than 36 minutes a night. In addition to that, his plus/minus was just 1.4.

The Pacers look like an entirely different team to start 2017. Many expected them to challenge for a top-four seed and they’re beginning to reach that form. Growing pains are almost non-existent at this point, and George’s impact is even greater than before. His numbers aren’t exponentially better, but the team is.

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Indiana has played 16 games so far, and PG has been present for all of them. His scoring is up a tick, and he sits at 23.2 points a night, but he’s shooting 46.7 percent from the field and 39.8 from three. The rebounding and steal numbers have dropped to 5.2 and 1.4, respectively, but the most telling stat is his revamped rating.

George’s plus/minus has ballooned up to 6.5 and as he goes, so do the Pacers. They boast the fifth-largest point differential at 4.1, trailing the Boston Celtics, Wizards, San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors.

For the Pacers to make some serious noise and be a threat to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the postseason, George can’t afford to go back to that place. He’s come up clutch before, and it was only three years ago when the Pacers were seen as the only team who had a legitimate chance at beating the Miami Heat in the playoffs.

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