Game 16 Preview: Pacers vs. Blazers

A Look at the Pacers

The Pacers are off to a somewhat disappointing 7-7 start this season.  How disappointing?  Take a look at the following categories in which they are trailing the opponents:

Points, Defensive Rebounds, Total Rebounds, Turnovers, Field Goals Made, Field Goal Percentage, Three-Point Percentage, Free Throws Attempted

The only categories in which they have clear statistical advantages are assists, blocks, and free throw percentage.  While those are nice complementary stats for a great team they won't win you games on their own.

The problem is not the Pacers' star talent.  Jermaine O'Neal remains a decent centerpiece.  His points are down to 18.2 this season from his usual 20+ but he's getting 9.3 rebounds and an amazing 3.3 blocks per game.  All-around swingman Al Harrington's point production has dipped to 15.8 but he's also notching 8 rebounds.  These guys remain dangerous on any given night.  The real problem has been the supporting cast.  Stephen Jackson, supposedly the third leg of the scoring triangle (maybe even the second) is shooting an amazingly poor 36% and has lost his starting job.  Jamaal Tinsley is notching his usual 6 assists but he's turning the ball over and doesn't seem at the peak of his defensive game either.  Since passing and defense are what he brings to the table that's trouble.  It's safe to say that at 11 points and 4.4 rebounds in 32 minutes second-year forward Danny Granger is having a somewhat disappointing start to the season.  At 6.6 points and 2.5 rebounds in 21 minutes Dallas' former athletic wonder Marquis Daniels is a disaster.  Other than rebounding machine Jeff Foster, the rest of the Indiana lineup isn't going to throw fear into you.  Basically too many people are falling apart at the same time, the house is a mess, and O'Neal and Harrington don't have the personality, clout, or drive to clean it up.  Right now Indiana is in a spot where if their big guys come up with a monster individual effort they have a chance to win, but absent that they're dropping the game.

Things I'd like to see:

  1.  I'm going to use a technical basketball term here, so hold on to your hats:  This team is horrible, stinky-poo awful at shooting the ball.  Danny Granger can hit a 3 and Al Harrington will occasionally take one but other than that it's either a layup or a miss.  If everybody stays in front of their man tonight we should get enough bricks that Paul Allen can just build a new arena instead of worrying about buying back the old one.  No layups and no dunks equals no chance.
  2.  The second part of that equation is that we must dominate the boards.  We're really getting worked at the glass lately and that has to stop.  The Pacers are a good offensive rebounding team.  We must box out or we're going to see those layups and dunks we just prevented on the initial attack come right back at us through putbacks.  Second chance points may be the most important stat of the evening.  Fortunately the Pacers are a relatively poor defensive rebounding team so we should be able to get a few cheap ones to make up for any we might lose.
  3.  If ever there were a game to key on one or two stars, this is it.  It's completely possible that Jackson or Daniels or Granger would break out of a slump hitting open jumpers tonight, but I'll take my chances with them in order to try and shut down their big two.  Sag down on Jermaine.  Double Harrington when he tries to make a move.  Make those guards carry the team from the outside and see if they can do it before you worry about them too much.
  4.  Our offense hasn't been that bad and as long as we keep sharing the ball and working to find the open man I don't see the Pacers having the will to stop us all game long.  The thing we cannot do is drive it 1-on-1 into the teeth of the defense, as O'Neal will stuff that back in our face all night.  But one cut and one pass ought to be enough to find at least open mid-range jumpers if not layups.  These guys aren't great help defenders and if you get them on the move there will be opportunities.
  5.  Along with that moving, cutting penetration should come some foul shots, which is where we could possibly win the game.  Getting Jermaine in early foul trouble would be a huge bonus, but even if we can get six or seven up on them from the stripe for the game that would make a win much easier to envision.
The Pacers are a better team than we are right now, but we're at home and they're definitely vulnerable.  It seems like if we play a smart, energetic game and give them a reason to lose they just might go for it.  If we don't come out with energy don't be surprised to see them resurrected off of a couple of J.O. monster slams though.  If we see early dunks, then frantic collapsing defense on our part, followed by swift passes to wide open perimeter guys for them it's going to be a long night.  We want that order to be reversed:  them bricking a bunch of semi-open jumpers early, us swarming the rebounds, and then hustling up the court for some easy shots.  Then if they try to force it in to their big guys it's too late and we'll watch Jermaine hoist against double teams all night because he's lost confidence in his backcourt mates.  Simply put, this will be a night when the defensive scheme isn't complicated.  Let's hope we can put it into practice.

A side note:  Something that's been worrying me is our overall point differential.  It's usually a good indicator of which teams are for real and which are just pretending.  Early in the season it can be skewed by one or two blowouts but as the year progresses it becomes more reliable.  One month in isn't a solid indicator but even so the signs aren't positive.  Our record is 6-9 which puts us in the middle of the league, but our point differential is -6.3 which ranks us 29th.  Last year we finished dead last with an astonishing -9.5.  As I said, it's still too early, but we don't want that to keep ballooning.  It's a little like watching your formerly overweight friend pick up their first Twinkie in a while.  You kind of hold your breath.  Maybe it's OK, but there better not be a box of them hidden somewhere...

I bring this up because our performance in games like tonight's should give us some indication of where the team's head is.  We may not win even if we play great, but we should be able to hang close.  If we get horse whipped by a struggling team in our own place that's not a good sign.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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