Saturday, November 15, 2014

Pacers show a little pride in big win over Bulls

The visiting Pacers defeated the Chicago Bulls 99-90 Saturday night. The Pacers are now 4-7 while the Bulls are 7-3.
Pacers 99, Bulls 90
A.J. Price came off the bench to score 21 points in the Pacers win Saturday night.
After getting embarrassed at home by the Denver Nuggest Friday night it was a given that the Pacers would come out with a better effort against the Bulls. But as has been the case in many of their games this season, the question was if that effort would be rewarded with a win. But the Pacers came out active, led by Luis Scola, from the beginning, and walked out of Chicago with their second road win of the week. Sure the Bulls are without star guard Derrick Rose, but as far as the Bulls are concerned, after missing almost all of the last two seasons, it's almost a surprise to see him on the court. Of course, some of the key players in this Pacers win did not see a lot of major minutes on the court last season. So, yes, mark one up for the underdogs once again.
Key Plays
The Pacers led 77-71 with 9:25 to go and then essentially put this one away with a 10-0 run while holding the Bulls without a point for the next 4:41. A.J. Price hit two 3-pointers in that run to give the Pacers a 3-1 record this week.
The Ups
1) It;s hard to believe that Price was not on an NBA team to begin the season. Price has certainly been worth the price the Pacers paid for him thanks to a roster exemption because of so many injuries. He has been a solid defender, which he always was, but now his offensive game has matured to the point where he has confidence to take and hit 3-pointers, as well as take guards off the dribble when the offense is breaking down. The Pacers have won four games now, and Price has played a major role in two of them. On this night, Price finished with 21 points
1) If the Pacers want to compete they need more games like this from Luis Scola. He was active from the beginning with 8 points and 6 rebounds midway through the first quarter. Scola finished with 21 poiints and 11 rebounds. But it's not just the numbers here. His energy was good throughout the game and maybe that was helped by his ability to hit that little 17-foot jumper from the elbow shot that he was open for during much of the game.
2) Solomon Hill continues to impress. There's no question that when George Hill and Rodney Stuckey return that Hill should remain a starter. He is a versatile offensive player and also a hard worker on defense. And with this current group of Pacers, when Solomon Hill is not on the court it's hard for them to compete at times. He ended up with 21 points and 10 rebounds in this one.
The Downs
1) As far as rookies go from the last two nights, it seems kind of hard to believe the Bulls traded Gary Harris to the Nuggets for Doug McDermott. Harris looked like the real deal in his first NBA game, while McDermott, while looking like a capable shooter for the Bulls, still has more of a work in progress look.
2) Damjan Rudez came to the Pacers as sort of designated shooter, and while he has hit an occasional 3-pointer, so far he's not been one of those "oh, no" guys for opponents when he lets the ball go. While his playing time will likely diminish a bit when Rodney Stuckey returns to health, up to this point, Rudez has missed too many shots during this opportunity to continue see ample playing time when others return to health.
Next Up
The Pacers get a few days off before they host the Charlotte Hornets Wednesday night. The Hornets were 4-5 going into their late game at Golden State Saturday night. They will host Dallas Monday. Of course, the big deal here is that it will be the return ot ex-Pacer Lance Stephenson, who signed with the Hornets as a free agent this offseason. Stephenson is averaging 9.2 points, 10.6 rebounds and 5.2 assists. The Hornets have some other firepower to in center Al Jefferson at 21.7 points and 6.9 rebounds, guard Kemba Walker at 15.9 points, guard Gary Neal at 13.1 points and swingman Michael Kidd Gilchrist at 9.8.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Pacers should say "no thanks" to tank talk

Pacers 97, Jazz 86
The Pacers had reason to smile after Monday night's win over the Utah Jazz broke  a six-game losing streak.
The Pacers defeated the visiting Utah Jazz 97-86 Monday night. The Pacers now 2-6, broke a six-game losing streak, while the Jazz are 3-5.
For the first time since the season opening win over the 76ers, the Pacers finally have a win to show for their effort. Sure, it came against a Jazz team that was on the second night of a back to back while the  Pacers were off Sunday, but the Pacers will take a win any way they can get it right now. Yes, there had been some folks calling for the Pacers to go for a tank season, you know, pretend you are playing to win, but you are really not in order to help your odds at getting a top draft pick. And while there is certainly some logic in it from a numbers standpoiint, the problem is that the Pacers have  a bunch of players who just don't like to lose. And that's still a good thing. Because sometimes, when you go from being good to bad, then go back to trying to be good again, it's not just a numbers thing but an attitude thing. And even with just two wins in their first eight games, you have to appreciate the attiitude of this team. Just how many wins it can translate into when other key players return to health is hard to say. Just remember a team can't win when it has a loser's mentality. It can be just awful to watch and an even more awful thing to change. So when it comes to tanking ... no thanks.
The Big Plays
There were three occasions where this game was tied late in the third quarter and early in the fourth quarter, and each time new/old Pacer (or is that old/new Pacer?) A.J. Price broke it with a key bucket. Price hit a 3-pointer to break at 67-67 tie, then hit a 19-foot jumper to break a 72-72 tie, then hit another 3-pointer to break a 77-77 tie with 8:45 left to give the Pacers the lead for good.
The Ups
1) When the Pacers picked up Price last week mostly as a desperation move because they were down to one point guard, it was bit interesting to read some comments on Facebook questioning why the Pacers made such a move. It was quite obvious considering they only had one healthy point guard in Donald Sloan. Also, Price, at the very least, is not going to hurt a team when he is on the court. So for those of us who watch the Pacers regularly it seemed like a common sense transaction, That move made a whole lot more sense Monday night when Price scored 22 points (just two points off of his career high) on 8 of 12 shooting from the floor. Price has not all of a sudden become an all-star, but give him credit for being ready not only to play when called upon, but to play well.
2) Roy Hibbert had his best game of the early season with 29 points. It was good to see the Pacers be able to take advantage of the undersized Jazz by using Hibbert as primary option on offense. It was also good to see Hibbert to continue to play with confidence with his second straight 20-point game. The Pacers can only hope he can keep the offensive momentum going.
3) Pacers coach Frank Vogel deserves a little credit for this one, too. Vogel stayed with Price and reserve power forward Lavoy Allen, who had 12 points and 15 rebounds, deep in the  fourth quarter. Vogel stayed basic by rewarding the players who were playing well on this night by allowing them to play more minutes. It may not seem like a big deal, but it's something that a lot of coaches would not do.
4) Former Butler star Gordon Heyward has turned into an NBA star now. The always highly skilled, but skinny kid, has now grown into his body and is the complete package. He showed that by scoring 30 points to go with eight rebounds and five assists Monday night. And in case you've forgotten, the Pacers didn't have a chance to pick Heyward in the NBA Draft as he went ninth, one pick before the Pacers selected  Paul George in 2010.
The Downs
The Pacers so-called shooters, Chris Copeland and Damjan Rudez, combined to shoot  just 3 for 12 in this game, so you'd like to see them do a little better than that. However, all three of their field goals were 3-pointers, including one by Rudez that tied the game, so it wasn't all bad.
Next Up
The Pacers will travel to Miami to play the defending Eastern Conference champion Heat. Last year, this was a big regular season game, but it certainly isn't this year, at least not for the same reasons. The Heat do have Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade back and are off to a 5-2 start. Bosh is leading the way at 23.6 points and 10.3 rebounds, followed by Wade at 19.7, Luol Deng at 15.6, Mario Chalmers at 11, and Shawne Williams (yes, that former Pacer Shawne Williams) at 10.1.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Pacers are climbers, but not conqurers for now

The Pacers lost their sixth straight game Saturday night, a 97-90 loss to  the visiting Washington Wizards. The Pacers are 1-6 on the season with their first six-game losing streak since March of 2011, while the Wizards improved to 5-2.
Halftime: Pacers 35, Wizards 54
Solomon Hill had a career night with 28 points and six rebounds
but it wasn't enough to lift the Pacers to a win Saturday.
The Pacers had every good reason to give up in this one. They were down by 18 after the quarter and had played miserably. They lost the only true starter they had to begin the game in center Roy Hibbert with a bruised knee. One of their bright spots in this season, Chris Copeland, was having pretty much a disaster game. And yet, this team refused to give in, cutting what had been a 22-point deficit in the first half, to three points late in the fourth quarter. It's a pretty odd thing to say, but this it's probably hard to find a more entertaining 1-6 team in recent NBA seasons. But here is the thing about the NBA, you can play with all the heart in the world, but on most nights, talent takes over. And the Pacers right now, with all five starters missing for most of this one, simply didn't have enough talent on the floor to win. Sure, we all  love Copeland and what he can bring to a team on most nights, but he's got limitations. It's been a pleasure to see the progress of point guard Donald Sloan, showing that he definitely belongs in the NBA after rarely getting into games last year. They would be great guys to bring off the bench, which was the original plan, and their effort maybe would be contagious. But they, Solomon Hill (more on him below) and C.J. Miles simply are not starting players in the NBA. I expect the Pacers will continue to play hard and give us all that they have. And that's a good thing that shouldn't be taken for granted. But now we know why we shouldn't take the talents of starters George Hill, David West, Rodney Stuckey, Paul George and Hibbert for granted either.
Big Plays
The key exhcange here came between the 6:49 and 6:02 mark. The Pacers were down three and Solomon Hill  missed a shot, got his own rebound, and  missed again. Then Wizards point guard John Wall  did what good  players do,  taking the ball  right at Pacers rookie big man shayne  Whittington and drawing a foul. Wall  hit the two free throws to make  it a five point game  and that was that.
The Ups
The biggest up in this one without question was the play of Solomon Hill. He has shown significant growth since the regular season started. He is capable of shooting the 3-pointer, has shown a mid-range jumper, hustled after rebounds, can drive into the lane and create his own shot or opportunities for others and didn't embarrass himself when he was forced into emergency point guard duty in a couple of games. So, while no one is projecting Hill to be a superstar, he certainly has shown he is more than capable of being solid NBA player. And with the minutes he will continue to get because of the injuries, it will be interesting to see just how his game continues to develop in the coming weeks. You have to like what you've seen so far.
The Downs
1) Yes, Copeland has shown he is a capable scorer as expected, but this was simply not his night. He finished with 14 points, but was just 1 for 10 from 3-point range. Sure, he's capable of catching fire at any time, but most of his shots looked off as soon as the ball left his hand. Part of his maturation as a player will be learning not to launch so many of those shots when they are not going in.
2) Turnovers have been a key issue this season and Saturday was no exception. The Pacers finished with 18, and maybe that's not too bad considering they had 10 in the first quarter. But a team that is missing so many key pieces can't continually afford to give away possessions.
3) Free throws are one of those basic things and when you are trying to comeback from a big deficit, they are potential points that are difficult to give away. That also hurt their comeback chances as they hit just 11 of 20 free throws in the first three  quarters. If they had hit, say a realistic 15 of 20, they may have taken the lead late in the game, instead of being down by three, and who knows what would've happened  then.
Next Up 
The Pacers play host to the Utah Jazz Monday night. The Jazz are 2-4 going into Sunday night's game at Detroit. They are led by former Butler star Gordon Heyward at 18 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists, Derrick  Favor at 16.3 points and 7.8 rebounds, guard Alex Burks at 14 points, center Enes Kantner at 11.2 points, forward Trevor Booker at 10.8 points and point guard Trey Burke at 10.2 points and four assists.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Pacers lack of wins not due to lack of effort

The Pacers lost another tough game Friday night in Boston, falling to the Celtics 101-98. The Pacers have lost five straight now after winning their season opener, while the Celtics are 2-3.
This is one of those teams where the effort has not been rewarded with a good record. Sure, it's true that in high school, and even in college games, that a good effort is almost always a precursor to victory. But the cold mean world of the NBA doesn't work that way. While there have been glimpses of good things from the current group of players, the bottom line is they just don't have enough talent to win. Sure, Donald Sloan has shown he belongs in this league. And yes, Chris Copeland certainly deserves to keep playing significant minutes even after George Hill, C.J. Watson, Rodney Stuckey and David West come back. There's no question that Solomon Hill has shown that he can be at least a useful player for a good team. And maybe in the long run, all of these guys getting a lot of playing time will be helpful once the Pacers can return to some semblance of health. So, maybe these guys getting a lot of playing time can help in a couple of ways. First, they and their now injured teammates can have confidence in them when they are on the floor together. Second, maybe the injured guys will  take note of the effort they are seeing and carry that through to their game. In fact, it would be a surprise if they didn't. But for now, it's on to the next game against the visiting Wizards.
The Big Plays
Halftime: Pacers 52, Celtics 55
Roy Hibbert was a bright spot for the Pacers Friday night
with 22 points, 11 rebounds and four blocked shots.
As has been the case in  all of the Pacers games so far, there have been key plays late. The two big ones here were when Donald Sloan missed a somewhat challenged layup that would have given the Pacers a one point lead with 29 seconds left. Then the Celtics' Jeff Green grabbed an offensive rebound with 6.1 seconds left after an Avery Bradley miss and the Celtics up one, forcing the Pacers to foul. Those two plays made what had been an uphill battle in the final minutes just a little too steep to climb this time.
The Ups
1)  While it's difficult to count on this group winning any games right now, what you can count on is effort. There are some teams that would look at the situation and realize they are signifiicantly down in personnel, meaning when they are significantly down on the scoreboard in the second quarter, or even in the fourth quarter, and just go through the motions. At least that is not the case with this team. But for everyone involved, a win anytime now sure would be nice.
2) Chris Copeland has certainly proved he can be a significant help to this team if given a chance. Sure, there are some times he gets caught on mismatches on defense that can hurt the team. However, once the regular crew returns, the defensive issues won't happen as often and the Pacers can still get the benefits of his offense from him. OptimusCope, as he is known on Twitter, has proven he can handle the ball good enough to get to the basket, and if he sees an open teammate under the basket he will  make that extra pass. He's not an all-star, but he's proven he's more than just a 3-point shooter.
3) Give Coach Frank Vogel some credit here for keeping a heavily undermanned team close in these early games. It''s part strategy, and it's part attitude and making them believe they can have a chance to win. And they have had their chances. However, he does still need some work on game-ending plays with Roy Hibbert left to take 3-pointer in Wednesday's  loss, and then the inbounds play getting picked  off at the end of Friday night's game.
The Downs
1) This is partly due  to the team's injury situation, but the defense has suffered a lot with mismatches in these early games. These are mismatches where the bigger players get caught on smaller players, causing all sorts of breakdowns on the defensive end. Maybe it will help a little to have A.J. Price around to at least defend the other teams' backup point guard, There were times where the Celtics went small Friday night, sometimes leaving Copeland guarding point guard Rajon  Rondo. It seems the other teams saw what others did against the Pacers in the playoffs last year. Hopefully when George Hill and Watson return that will remedy that problem at least somewhat.
Next Up
The Pacers will try to get their second win of the season against the visiting Wizards Saturday night. Washington lost at Toronto Friday night 103-84. The Wizards are 4-2 and defeated the Pacers 96-94 in overtime in Washington Wednesday night.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Pacers can't be picky about how they win

The Pacers started the season with a 103-91 win over the visiting Philadelphia 76ers Wednesday and for the fourth straight year they are 1-0 to begin the season. The Pacers play host to the 1-0 Memphis Grizzlies tonight.
And, while just one win is surely not a big deal, the way the offseason transpired with the losses of Lance Stephenson to free agency and Paul George to the horrfic looking injury while playing for Team USA, and with the way the preseason transpired with George Hill out for three weeks and David West likely missing the first three games, any win can't be taken for granted. It's been a bit of a luxury in the past couple of seasons, and especially last season, to be concerned with only a 10- or 12-point victory over a lesser opponent. When looking through the schedule before the season started, and trying to pick just how many wins the Pacers could get this season, the best number I could come up with was 38. That means they would be 38-44. And I consider myself an optimistic realist (or should it be realistic optimist?). There are the chances the Wizards and Nets will have their usual injuries and won't be as good as projected. Or maybe the Hornets chemistry won't come together for a while with Stephenson in the mix now. Or maybe some of the Pacers will perform better than they have in recent years, mainly George Hill and Roy Hibbert. So, I'm not going to be doomsdayer here and say more than 38 wins is not possible. Even though, you have to realize that if the Pacers are not a playoff team, then the worse record the better when it comes draft time. But for now, it will be interesting just to see what this team can do with new faces such as C.J. Miles and Rodney Stuckey, and especially when both West and Hill are in the lineup together.
The Big Plays
Pacers 103, 76ers 91
Rodney Stuckey made a good first impression
in his Pacers debut with 16 points and five assists
in just 16 minutes of action Wednesday night.
There were a few in this game, but the one stretch that gave the Pacers some breathing room came late in the third quarter when C.J. Miles and Donald Sloan combined to score eight points, including a 3-pointer each, in a 31-second stretch to turn a two-point lead into a 10-point advantage.
The Ups
1) We didn't see a lot of Stuckey in the preseason due to injury, but he showed he can be more than a helpful player in his limited time in Wednesday's win, scoring 16 points in 16 minutes. Stuckey had been kind of well, stuck, in a losing situation in Detroit the past few years. Maybe he wants to prove he is a winner. He certainly made a good first impression in that area Wednesday. One of the primary concerns for this team not only early here without Hill and West, but in the long haul, will be finding ways to score. But if Stuckey can be a reliable option in the offense, that will be a nice step in the right direction.
2) It's probably true what team President Larry Bird said earlier this week that Roy Hibbert is not the kind of player where you can just continually throw the ball down to him and expect him to score a lot, like 20 something points a night. But when the Pacers have a clear advantage on the offensive end with Hibbert, like they did against the Sixers they need to be able to take advantage of it. That wasn't always the case late in the season last year, so that was good to see Wednesday night. If Hibbert's season averages end up around 16 points, nine rebounds, three blocks while shooting 46 or 47 percent. it would be hard not to take that. But it's clear that if the Pacers are going to have any success this year Hibbert has to be at least a solid player.
The Downs
Yes, while the win was nice, the fact that the Sixers scored 91 points and found their share of open shots wasn't good from a defensive standpoint. Tony Wroten is their best offensive player right now, and well, that's the point. A team with Tony Wroten as its top scorer shouldn't be scoring a whole lot.
Next Up
The Pacers will be facing what looks to be a good Memphis team tonight. The Pacers won't have a significant, if any, advantage in the middle this time with as the Grizzlies have Marc Gasol at center, who scored 32 points in their opening win Wednesday. The Grizzlies also have Hoosier natives Zach Randolph at power forwared (it seems he scores at least 20 and grabs at least 15 rebounds every time he comes to Indiana) and point guard Mike Conley, who has gone on to become a very solid player and have infinitely better NBA career than former high school and college teammate Greg Oden, a former No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Pacers need to feel pain of Heat loss

Pacers President Larry Bird asked fans to have patience when the team was in the midst of a rebuilding process a few years ago. And now, despite calls for a new coach, or to make trades to drastically change the roster, Bird needs to be the patient one now.
Frank Vogel will return as the Pacers coach.
He took a step in the right direction by announcing Monday that Coach Frank Vogel will be returning next year. Vogel took the team from mediocre to a legitimate playoff threat in the last four seasons. Has every decision Vogel made been perfect? No. And judging by his press conference Monday, he knows that. There needs to be more variety in the offense, more accountability at both ends of the floor at times, and a willingness to allow the bench to play a little more, too, even if they aren't playing well in a specific game, especially early in the season.
Overall, though, Vogel has grown as a coach, he's all about doing what he thinks needs to be done to win, and yet, he understands that there are a lot of egos involved in managing an NBA basketball team and keeping the players somewhat satisfied. That's something some coaches never get, let alone try to be good at. Vogel will continue to improve with the X's and O's. And hopefully he has a enough respect from his players that if one of them doesn't do what is asked on a particular play, he can take them out for a minute or two to get his point across.
One of the best parts of Vogel's press conference was him saying that everyone needs to improve, and he included himself in that statement. That was a good thing because if Vogel holds himself accountable, then that means the players and other coaches and other staff members in the organization must do so as well.
Hopefully that will lead to Vogel following through with some type of discipline when a player goes off on his own instead of running a play, or when a player doesn't get back on defense after a made free throw allowing the other team to get an easy shot, or when a player throws a sloppy behind the back pass that leads to a turnover when a regular overhead pass would do just fine.
There's no doubt that these things are part of the learning curve for what is largely a young team, when you consider Paul George and Lance Stephenson (who Bird says he really wants to keep) are on the younger side of 25.
It won't take a radical change to make the offense better, just some adjustments. One of the key things will be learning how to make better passes into the post. For as good as Paul George was for much of the year, even when he was at his best, he does not understand how to make a good pass into the post. It has a little bit to do with the angle of the pass and a little bit with learning to wait for the post player (usually either Roy Hibbert or David West) to establish themselves and get good balance. If the team as whole can make that adjustment, it would be a good start in helping Hibbert become an more effective post player on offense.
And the point in all of this is that there are ways for this team to get better without making drastic personnel changes. Remember, sometimes it takes a team a few years to get over that hump and into the finals. It happened with the Pistons backs in the late 1980s and early 1990s, then with the Bulls after that.
And as Vogel mentioned several times in his press conference, there is room for improvement for everyone.
The question that only the Pacers players can answer though is if losing to the Heat in the conference finals for two straight years hurts enough to motivate them to want to be better. Hopefully the sting will be there for another full season. Because if they aren't tired of losing to the Heat yet, then no amount of patience will get them to that elusive next level.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Pacers season ends with resounding dud

The visiting Pacers lost to the Miami Heat 117-92 Friday night in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference Final series. The Heat won the series 4-2 and now await the winner of the Western Conference Finals between San Antonio and Oklahoma City in a quest to win their third straight title.
The Pacers and David West never found a way to slow down the Heat.
That resounding thud, or maybe I should say dud, was the Pacers season ending with a non-competitive loss in Miami. It wasn't the fact that the Pacers lost all three of their games in Miami in this series that was a big deal, but the fact that they really weren't competitive in the second half of any of those games. That was a big problem. I'm not going to get into finger pointing after this game, but the end result was the Pacers simply could not even match, let alone beat, the Heat in Miami. That dig-in-and-figure-out-how-to-win mentality just wasn't there on the road, and for many games in these playoffs. If someone said at the beginning of the season that the Pacers would lose again to the Heat in the Eastern Finals, it would be disappointing, but not a disaster. But the way they played in these games at Miami was a disaster. The Heat mostly did whatever they wanted, wherever they wanted to do it and whenever they wanted to do it. The homecourt advantage the Pacers talked about and coveted all season, didn't really mean a lot in this series. And there were signs before the playoffs started that it wouldn't. One was when Pacers President Larry Bird signed Andrew Bynum and traded Danny Granger for Evan Turner. It put a dent in the team's psyche and contradicted coach Frank Vogel's words of how much he liked the team he had. It turned out that Bynum got a $1 million for playing in two games and Turner was so inept defensively that he couldn't be trusted to get any kind of significant minutes in the playoffs. The other sign was though, maybe more significant. The Heat didn't really care if they had the homecourt advantage for this series or not. They rested key players in their final two regular season games instead of going all out to earn the top spot in the Eastern Conference. All that meant was that they believed with all confidence they could beat any team in the East, including the Pacers, in a key game on the road. That was a pretty big statement in itself and in the end, like or not, the Heat were right.
Big Plays
Let's just keep this real simple here. On the first play of the game when LeBron James got a layup off the opening tip, but missed and then got his own rebound and put it back in that was a bad sign as no other Pacers hustled back to get the rebound. One seemingly simple play with still over 47 minutes to go, but the Heat were first to the ball all night.
The Ups
Well, Paul George had probably the quietest 28-point second half in a playoff game that you'll ever see and finished with 29 points. The problem was he had only one point in the first half. But at least he didn't stop playing, even though the game was pretty much decided.
The Downs
1) The once defensive-oriented Pacers allowed the Heat to shoot 57 percent in this one. And it was the fourth time in the six games in this series that the Heat shot better than 50 percent. That's not winning defense during the regular season and it's certainly not going to beat many teams in the playoffs either. The Pacers lack of ability to adjust to what the Heat were doing on offense was a glaring theme in this series.
2) Hopefully the Pacers won't blame the referees for the series loss, or talk about how well they played after a defeat. One of the things we learned about some of the Pacers players is that they are pretty good at spreading blame, whether it be on the officials or on the coach. But it's pretty clear they need to take responsibility for what happened in this series. Too many possessions where they didn't hustle back on defense, too many lackadaisical passes that led to turnovers and too many quick shots on offense.
Next Up
The Pacers now will need to evaluate how they can get better to beat the Heat, and if Derrick Rose is healthy next year, the Bulls, too. They have some big questions to ask and answer during the season. Is coach Frank Vogel good enough to get this team to the NBA Finals? Is the bulk of this roster good enough to get to the NBA Finals, no matter who is coaching it? Is Lance Stephenson worth signing to a contract that will likely leave them no flexibility
against the salary cap? Do they need a more pure, traditional type of point guard to run the offense? Those are questions that will be answered in the coming days. All we know for now for sure, and it hurts to say it, but the Heat are still better than the Pacers  . . . without a doubt.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

George rises and Pacers live another day

The Pacers defeated the visiting Miami Heat 93-90 in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals Wednesday night. The Heat lead the series 3-2 with Game 6 in Miami at 8:30 p.m. Friday.
Paul George scored 21 of his 37 points
in the fourth quarter Wednesday night.
This was all about getting to the next game for the Pacers. They played the second half with a sense of urgency that was needed to keep their season alive against the Heat. The Pacers didn't always make the smartest plays, but they did play with a tremendous amount of heart and they were smart enough to just keep giving the ball to Paul George in the second half. Sure, the Heat didn't have LeBron James on the court for much of this game (only 24 minutes) due to foul trouble, so that's something that can't be counted on every game. But the Heat also can't count on Rashard Lewis making 6 of 9 3-pointers in every game either. So while that doesn't totally even things out, it does at least a little. And maybe some think that Lance Stephenson took the "find a way" mantra a little too far by blowing in James' ear, but even the Heat superstar got a little laugh out of that and if that broke James' concentration for just one possession, then well, OK.  And for the moment, the Pacers get to concentrate on one more game and given the situation they were in, that's all that could be asked of them for now.
The Big Plays
This was a more typical playoff game with big shots being made by both teams down the stretch. One of the big possessions late that went in the Pacers favor was when center Roy Hibbert grabbed an offensive rebound off a Paul George miss and passed the ball back to Paul George for a 3-pointer that gave the Pacers a 91-87 lead with 46.7 seconds left. It turned out to be the last big of several big plays made by George in this one.
The Ups
1) This could pretty much start and end with George. He had one of the better second halves and fourth quarters in Pacers playoff history, scoring 31 points on 12 of 19 shooting for the half and 21 points in the fourth quarter quarter while finishing the game with 37 points. The good thing, too, about this was that George also used his defense to feed his offense with six steals, including some key ones in the second half that led to baskets. It was simply the kind of superstar-like performance the Pacers needed from him, especially when they are struggling on offense and need someone to step up. It's not that they need 37 from him to win every game against the Heat, but George does need to recognize there will be nights in the playoffs and against the Heat where he has to step up  and be the man. And it was nice to see that happen in an elimination game.
2) The Heat had ruled the third quarter in winning three straight in this series, but the third is where the game turned for the Pacers in this one. They outscored the Heat 31-15 and erased an early 11-point deficit in the quarter to lead by seven at the end of the quarter. The Heat shot just 29 percent with six turnovers in the quarter. That's too much bad offense for the defense to not have something to do with it.
3) When the Heat had the ball and trailed by two with 13.6 seconds left, there was some speculation by the TV announcers that the Pacers should take Hibbert out of the game so they could protect the 3-point area better. But having remembered what happened in Game 1 of the series last year, when Hibbert was on the bench when James won the game with a drive to the basket, I was glad to see Pacers coach Frank Vogel leave Hibbert in because a similar play would put the game into overtime. So with Hibbert there to guard the rim this time, James kicked the ball into the corner to Chris Bosh who missed the 3-pointer. It wasn't a bad shot for the Heat to get, but it also wasn't James shooting it and that was a good thing.
The Downs
1) The fact that David West and George combined to miss three free throws late in the game was not good, especially when you are at home. On two occasions the Pacers could have been up by four in the final seconds and not have had to play defense, but in true character for this team, nothing seems to come easily. In all, the Pacers were 13 of 22 from the line, so a little better accuracy there would have the final couple of minutes a little less stressful.
2) The Pacers defense was slightly better in this one, holding the Heat to 45 percent, but the defense was by no means great. The Heat have the ability to draw the Pacers defense into the lane and then find the open shooter in the corner for a 3-pointer. In Game 3 it was Ray Allen and in Game 5 it was Rashard Lewis who hit six 3-pointers. Sure, Lewis draws a bigger player like David West outside the lane where West is not accustomed to playing defense, but also all Lewis can do on offense is shoot 3-pointers and that in itself shouldn't be that hard to guard.
Next Up
The Pacers face the unenviable task of trying to stay alive by winning in Miami. The one thing that might be on their side, in an odd sort of way here, is that the Heat will feel some pressure to win Game 6 because they won't want to come back to Indiana for a Game 7. The other side of the coin though is the Heat are the two-time defending champions and they've been in plenty of pressure situations over the past couple of years so you know they are not going to panic. With James having such an bad night in this one, it would be a surprise if he doesn't come out and assert himself early on in Game 6. The Pacers will have to survive that early push and find a way to dig in make this a game in the fourth quarter. It is true these Pacers seem to embrace the underdog role, so in another sort of odd way, that makes me think they just might have a chance down in Miami Friday night.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Pacers offer little resistance to Heat

The visiting Pacers lost to the Miami Heat 102-90 Monday night in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals. The Heat lead the series 3-1 with Game 5 set for 8:30 Wednesday night in Indiana.
Yes, it's true if you look at the box score and see that the Pacers were only down five at halftime, but really there was never a time in this game where it looked like the Pacers really had a chance to win. These were two disappointing games in Miami, not simply because the Pacers lost, but because really they didn't put up the kind of consistent challenge that a mature playoff team should in these situations. There have been little mistakes, especially in these last two games, that the defending champions took full advantage of. Whether it was miscommunication on defending the pick and roll, not getting back on defense after a made free throw, not getting the rebound after a good defensive stand, or not doing what works on offense consistently, the Paces simply have not consistently done what they needed to compete at a high level. Sure, the Heat do have LeBron James, and there's no question that he is the best player in the NBA, but the Pacers have allowed too many of his teammates to look better than they really are. The Pacers passion simply did not go with them to Miami. Hopefully it will be with them in Indianapolis.
The Big Plays
The Pacers had no answer for LeBron James
 and the Heat in Monday night's defeat.
There were a lot of them for the Heat in this game, but when they came out and started the second half with an 8-1 run and the Pacers didn't respond, that was pretty much it for this one. Maybe the Heat's dominance was earmarked by James hitting a 3-pointer with the shot clock expiring and David West all over him.
The Ups
1) The two Pacers who did play well in this one were George Hill and Luis Scola. They combined to hit 11 of 18 shots for 27 points. It was the second straight game where Scola provided the Pacers with some much-needed offense off the bench. Maybe we will see some more combinations of Scola on the floor with most of the starters in Game 5.
2) Roy Hibbert didn't do a lot right in this game, but when he kept Ray Allen from continuing on to the basket well after the whistle had blown, it was one of the best things I've seen in these two games in Miami. That kind of attitude from the Pacers is something that should have been happening the whole series.
The Downs
1) If you tried to convince someone that the Pacers are a team built on defense, and they had watched just this series, you would have a losing argument. The Heat shot 46 percent. their worst shooting game of the series and that's not a good thing for the Pacers. Coming in to the series, the Pacers should have hoped that 46 percent would be the Heat's best shooting game of the series.
2) Lance Stephenson is a young and talented player and the Pacers need to find a way re-sign him for next year. However, when it comes to talking about the Heat, whether it's Dwayne Wade and his supposedly bad knees, or getting into LeBron James' head, Stephenson needs to quiet it down.
3) And speaking of Stephenson, he and Roy Hibbert had combined for one point in much of this game, before Stephenson got some late baskets to finish with nine points. The Pacers though, are going to have  hard time winning when both Hibbert and Stephenson give them almost nothing on offense. The Heat are good enough on defense when everyone is contributing, but if two of the starters can't be considered serious threats, then that just makes the job that much easier for the Heat defense.
4) To be clear, the responsibility for the Pacers loss falls squarely on their shoulders. However, there were some calls against the Pacers that were mystifying. It was good that Pacers coach Frank Vogel got a technical to try and get a message across, but I wouldn't have minded him getting thrown out of this one, partly to send a message to the officials, but maybe also light a fire against a team that needs a little jolt right now.
Next Up
The Pacers are now win or stay home mode going into Wednesday. I would hope that they come out with some pride and play their best game of the playoffs because that is likely what they will need to win the game. The problem here is that this isn't coming against a flawed Atlanta team, where the Pacers won two straight to reach the second round. The Heat have shown the ability to withstand significant runs and momentum to stay in games and there's no reason to think they won't play that way again, even though they have the security of going home to play a Game 6 if necessary. Right now, that's all the Pacers can hope for.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Pacers defense disappears in this loss to Heat

The visiting Pacers lost to the Miami Heat 99-87 Saturday night in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals. The Heat lead the series 2-1 with Game 4 set for 8:30 Monday night in Miami.
It was a frustrating night for David West and the Pacers Saturday.
The Pacers couldn't keep this one ugly enough. When the announcers are talking about how bad both teams are playing, how there are too many turnovers and nobody can make shots, then well, it seems the Pacers are usually ahead and that's what was going on in the first quarter here when the Pacers pretty much dominated. However, the third quarter, which has been the Pacers best for much of this season, was pretty much the opposite. The Pacers allowed the Heat too many uncontested baskets as Miami hit 11 of 15 shots in the quarter. You simply can't beat anybody when that happens. The biggest shame of all about this game for the Pacers is that early on this was a game that appeared very winnable. The Heat came out flat, scoring just 14 points in the first quarter and the Pacers had the lead up to 15 midway through second.  But the Heat closed the second quarter strong and kept it going into the third and the flatness they had disappeared. Now the Pacers are in a must win situation in Game 4 and face the unenviable task of having to win two straight at some point to win this series, something they could not do last year.
The Big Plays
As always there are a lot of big plays in these games, but when the Heat cut into the Pacers lead by going on an 8-0 run near the end of the first half, and trailed just 42-38 at the half, then they knew they were in the game.
The Ups
1) The Pacers did get good efforts off the bench from Luis Scola and Rasual Butler. They combined for 14 points and were a big reason the Pacers were able to build that 15-point lead in the second quarter.
2) That first quarter, that's the way the Pacers need to play the whole game. They were going to Roy Hibbert and David West inside and the Heat could do nothing to stop them. The Heat shot just 37 percent and had seven turnovers while West and Hibbert combined for 17 points in the quarter and then had just 12 for the rest of the game. That's where the Pacers have the advantage and they need to exploit that throughout the game, not just in the beginning.
The Downs
1) Where is the defense? For the third straight game, the Pacers allowed the Heat to shoot better than 50 percent and in this one, the Heat scored 61 points in the second half. It's one thing to lose to the Heat in a grind-it-out down to the wire type of game where both teams have trouble making baskets. But to lose to them by offering so little resistance, that's the most disappointing thing of all. If I have watch to Dwayne Wade dribble across the lane, then stop and take that little uncontested eight-foot jumper again, I may just throw up. At least force him to make the extra pass or take a difficult shot. It was just way too easy for him and the Heat in general.
2) The Pacers still don't understand that every possession importance. There were sloppy passes at times (see Paul George and Lance Stephenson as Exhibit A) and there was trying to dribble through three defenders at times (see Evan Turner as Exhibit B). They have to understand these behind the back passes just don't fly in the playoffs, and they really don't fly against the Heat. Just good solid regular passes will do fine. It's a hard lesson to learn, but until they do, they are going to have a hard time beating the Heat.
3) This is not calling for coach Frank Vogel's job or anything like that, but it is disappointing to see the Heat do the same thing over and over again on offense and be successful. And it was really disappointing that there wasn't a better game plan to defend Ray Allen in this one, who put the game away for the Heat in the fourth quarter by scoring 13 points by hitting 4 of 4 from 3-point land. Shooting 3-pointers is all Allen can really do these days and there has to be a better plan to cover him when he's in the game.
Next Up
The Pacers have their backs to the wall now and if they don't respond with a better defensive effort they will be in that next to impossible hole to climb out of. I'd be happy if the Pacers put Wade on his behind a couple of times when he comes in the lane just to give him something to think about. Let them be called bullies or thugs or whatever, but if the Pacers don't offer some type of resistance, they are simply not going to win this series. Right now, the Heat have the Pacers defense figured out. It's up to the Pacers to do something at least a little different to confuse them because right now the status quo isn't working.