Game Time: 4:00 TV: CSNNW
At 23-16 the Indiana Pacers are having a fine season. They're overshadowed in their division by the Bulls and in the East by great teams like Miami and flashy teams like New York. But they're in a tight group with Philadelphia and Atlanta, competing to see who will be the best Eastern Conference team not named Chicago, Miami, or Orlando.
This feat is made more remarkable by the fact that their best player and leading scorer, Danny Granger, has seldom been spoken of this year without "What the heck happened to..." tacked before his name. Granger still averages 18 points but his field goal percentage has dropped to 39% from 42.5% last year and his three-point percentage is down from 38.5% to 34%. Just two years ago this guy was scoring 24 and looking all-world. Now his points are down, rebounds down, assists down, free-throw attempts down. "Still good but not great" has been his motto this year.
Fellow forward David West, transplanted from New Orleans, was supposed to take up some of Granger's scoring slack. That hasn't happened. He's playing fewer minutes, his shooting percentage has dropped from 51% to 46%, his scoring average is down from 19 to 12.5.
Fortunately the rest of the Pacers are pretty darn good. 6'8" sophomore shooting guard Paul George rebounds incredibly, is on fire from the three-point arc, defends...he's the real deal. Center Roy Hibbert made the All-Star team because of his defense and rebounding. Point guard Darren Collison isn't quite the all-world player many speculated he would be a couple years ago but he's a decent play-maker who can also score. Power forward Tyler Hansbrough and wings George Hill (injured but returning) and Dahntay Jones are the top bench players. Behind them roost a few guards and enough tough big men to knock your block off when Hibbert's fouls start mounting and he has to sit. These aren't the Pacers of Reggie Miller and Rik Smits. These guys are trouble and will derive their identity from locking you down.
Indiana is 8th in the league in defensive efficiency, 7th in points in the paint allowed, 8th in fast break points allowed, 8th in field goal percentage allowed, 5th in opponent assists allowed per possession, 5th in opponent turnovers per possession, 9th in blocks per game, and 8th in steals per game. That's impressive. Their flaws defensively: they don't rebound well and they commit fouls. If they could shore up that defensive rebounding percentage they'd have to be considered among the true elite defenses in the league. Even now on many nights they are.
Their offense is hampered by poor overall shooting percentage via a lack of easy shots. They're good three-point shooters, mediocre at generating points anywhere else save the foul line. They draw even more free throw attempts than they give up. They're last in the league in assists per game...an overrated stat but it does indicate something about their scoring style. They're much better offensive rebounders than defensive.
The problems for Portland tonight will come on the offensive end, obviously. The Blazers don't score well on the road anyway. Indiana's no great shakes offensively but I'd bet on their offensive being able to overcome Portland's at their own joint before I'd bet on Portland being able to blitz through that Indy D. The Pacers have size and skill to match Portland, plus toughness that the Blazers have lacked since early on in the season. Portland's best hope is to throttle the Pacers in return and hope to escape with an ugly win. Understand that the guy with the ball will probably want to score. Do an amazing job on the boards. Take your chances.
Since they lost to Minnesota and Boston already on this trip the Blazers need victories in Indiana and New York to preserve any kind of respect. They've painted themselves into a corner here and they'll have a hard time getting out of it tonight. We'll see how they manage.
Read about the Pacers at Indy Cornrows.
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