Pacers Have Pieces But Might Lack Punching Power

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CHICAGO
– At the risk of overreacting, on a night when Indiana was cleaning up the tail end of a back-to-back, on the road, playing without both David West and Danny Granger, the not-so-big “84″ that glowed from the scoreboard after the Indiana Pacers’ loss to Chicago at United Center Saturday remained a little troubling.

Against a beat-up Bulls teams missing its Defensive Player of the Year candidate (Joakim Noah) in the paint, taking on a defense that has sagged this season overall and been shredded recently for 121 points (Sacramento), 101 (San Antonio), 119 (Denver in OT) and 101 (Cleveland), the Pacers stalled out with just 84. Four shy of what they needed, way shy of what they’ll need to be logging when every team they’re facing in the Eastern Conference side of the playoffs is, well, a playoff team.

Look, the Pacers have a formidable starting lineup when healthy. They have one of the league’s bright young stars in Paul George, a legitimate center in Roy Hibbert in a league where they’re hard to find, a throwback post-up power forward in West and enough pieces (if not always consistency) off the bench to go toe-to-toe with almost anyone in the East.

Defensively, they are close to lockdown, with an NBA-best rating of 98.6 heading into Saturday’s game, the stingiest shooting percentages (41.4 FG, 32.2 3FG), disruptive coverages (opponents have passed for the third fewest assists) and size enough to grab even the streaking Miami Heat’s attention. The Pacers had been getting better, too, limiting teams to 39.6 percent shooting and 87.6 points over their most recent 20 games prior to facing the Bulls.

Offensively, though, Indiana hasn’t developed and sustained the sort of punching power it will need when facing Miami, Boston or maybe Chicago again in a best-of-seven situation. In three losses in a week earlier this month, the Pacers scored 91 against the Heat, 93 against the Lakers and 91 against the 76ers. It represented a regression to a very mean mean for them; they had picked the pace to average 98.5 points on 44.9 percent shooting since sputtering through their first 36 games at 90.9 and 42.0, respectively.

As an ensemble (i.e., superstar-deficient) team, Indiana faces questions of long-term postseason viability not unlike those heard by George Karl and the Denver Nuggets. The difference being, Denver has no trouble scoring. The Pacers, too often, struggle to put points on the board, such as in the fourth quarter Saturday. Their defense bothered Chicago into 6-of-22 shooting and just 19 points, but that went for naught when the Indy offense did even worse (4-for-20, 17 points).

Frank Vogel believes that the attack he’s seen – more often, at least – in the season’s second half is enough, with the playoffs’ opening weekend four weeks away.

“I think we do [have enough],” he said. “The first part of achieving something like the NBA Finals is believing you can do it. Are we the best team on paper to get to The Finals? No. But does that mean we can’t beat [Miami]. No it doesn’t.”

Like the Nuggets, the Pacers have no obvious “closer.” Like the Nuggets, they rely on one of those committee approaches forged out of necessity, not by choice. Vogel, like Karl, feels he has three or four scorers to whom he can turn in the clutch.

“It’s the open man, really,” Vogel said. “We have guys who have hit big shots. In some ways, that’s better. In some ways, it’s harder to prepare for that when you don’t know who it’s going to go to.”

George Hill has done it, George has done it, Granger might be able to if he ever gets back (his sore left knee might argue otherwise). But the fellow they most rely on is West, the one considered “a lion” in the Pacers’ locker room and one of the few guys who keeps LeBron James away from the “4″ spot. West has missed the past four games with a lower back sprain.

“When David’s in, he’s someone we go to late in the games,” George said. “That’s something we’ll always miss, win or loss. Still, we’ve been playing well with David out.”

What West does not or cannot do, George increasingly will be expected to.

“I feel like the depth and versatility that we have, it can be crucial come playoff time,” the Indiana shooting guard said. “Of late, we’ve been scoring in the 100s. Our winning margins have been in the 20s. That’s always encouraging. Especially starting the year off, when our offense wasn’t clicking, we always had our defense to rely on. Now our offense is starting to click, we’re starting to play for one another, our assists are going up.”

For most of the next four weeks, the Pacers will try to improve. After that, it’s less a matter of improving than of proving.

22 Comments

  1. skullfire68 says:

    I’m a Pacer fan, but I have to admit that I’m not sure how far we will get in the playoffs with our offense and our bench. Most of the year, both have stunk. When teams pressure us on defense we tend to really struggle.

  2. bitch please says:

    the bench players of these team are really arrogant, that’s y dexter pitman gives him a lesson haha

  3. Backoftheshortbus says:

    Do you think the Pacers wouldn’t love to have a super star? This whole super star talk is short sighted. They have built a good team yes TEAM. Since the Pacers have not had a pick higher than 5th for 24 years they haven’t been able to draft a superstar. Free agent super stars are not encouraged to play in small markets. So Indiana has to do the best they can by building a team.

  4. Stinky says:

    No way, the pacers can beat miami in a best of seven. It’s a case, of case closed on this closed case…

  5. cyrus says:

    I still believe it will be miam vs celtics in the ECF ,they play much better in the playoffs.Celtics is miami biggest nightmare that is my prediction case closed.

  6. LebronKingOfNba says:

    the truth is pacers team is led by an arrogant man and arrogant player last playoffs.

    remember when vogel called the heat a flopping team. smh! disrespect. vogel has no camaraderie at all. i can’t remember a coach calling a team a flopping team. that’s really disrespectful. where’s the sportmaship.

    and remember when granger “stupid” was doing like a rodman or metta world peace style of playing to lebron. really?

    and those bench players. smh! no need to mention

    paul george, david west, and george hill are the only respectable people in this roster. as in! even the coach itself is a disgrace

  7. Jalen Steve says:

    If the Pacers get West and Granger back and into rhythm down the stretch, so that its 10-man rotation is set and in tact; they can obviously make noise in the post season. All they want is a playoff rematch with the Heat. The Heat would, and of course, should be heavily favored in such a match up; but there is no question that a healthy Indiana is the last team that Miami wants to see in the playoffs. The Pacers’ offensive problems would be solved with the return of Granger to a reasonable facsimile of the guy who has led this team in scoring the past few years. That, however, may be asking too much.

  8. ThaLiveKing says:

    Pacers are a solid team, but sometimes they just struggle. If they ever play when all cylinders are rolling, they will be hard to stop, even without Granger, but they do lack that killer instinct, they never step on team’s neck when their up, and that’s a huge problem going into the playoffs. But if they see Miami in the playoffs, they will show up, the scary thing is, that they might not show up to play the teams before they get to Miami. That’s their biggest problem. This is coming from a guy who’s been a PAcers fan his whole life.

  9. Kobe_Himself says:

    they aint got a super star… how they gonna beat miami?? they got 3 lol, unless melo combines with d-rose… lebron/wade/bosh has a free ticket to the finals for the next 10 years

  10. Walt Wittman says:

    The Pacers’ biggest problem on offense is getting easy baskets and attacking the paint . All of the really good teams do that

    consistently. Heat,Spurs,Nuggets, have players that attack the paint in the Nuggets case its a team focus.

    • timo says:

      George is an up and coming player but still doesn’t play with enough discipline. The Pacers had the bulls on the ropes last night, and wasted countless possessions until the Bulls finally got the momentum. A lot of this was George and co playing fancy pants basketball and taking bad shots. A lot of this comes down to maturity but at the moment it’s not there. Also, in the second half when the bulls were painstakingly overtaking Indianas lead, the second unit was on the floor, and Mahinmi and Pendergraph were taking long jump shots.
      George Hill needs to start playing better too, way to inconsistent and barely gets into the paint or creates shots for others….has a big reputation because of the San Antonio days but is no more than an average point guard IMO

  11. theme says:

    Looking like they will give Heats a run. I think they are second best in the east. Time will tell.

  12. theme says:

    Looking like they will give Heats a run

  13. CMS says:

    Let’s consider the 2004 Detroit Pistons as the ideal in this kind of team (multiple options, solid defence, an inclined closer in Billups but necessarily definitive). Do the Pacers as a whole have a solid half-court offensive scheme that opens up shooters and lanes? If you watch the Nuggets and the stats will support this, they get into the paint and score at a ridiculuous rate. The Pacers have a slasher/shooter in George (though he could be more refined), a consistent presence in West, and perhaps when healthy an option in Granger as the article mentions. However, unlike Denver, I would argue the best looks George and Granger can fetch are jumpers with West being closer to the rim though not necessarily on a power move (dunk, layup, foul, etc) more along the lines of a hook shot, jumper, floater, etc. Where does that leave Indiana? There’s no question that they lack a guy who can take someone from the perimeter and beat his defender 1v1. They may go far in the playoffs using their half-court d prowess, but ultiamtely, their success requires them to acquire a guy like Billups (or improve their current players) who could create something on his own. Right now I don’t see George beating Lebron 1v1, maybe West on Bosh, and Granger is iffy.

  14. upsetter says:

    i just hope the heat gets beat and make you little girlies cry lol hope the pacers prove a couple sissies wrong…end of discusion

  15. W/E says:

    Pacers got NON of those 2 actually, they are an average not even worth to mention team the east is WEAK case closed.

  16. HEATFANSINCEWADE says:

    I am not surprised that the Pacers are gonna struggle against good teams. They are an arrogant team! (as seen in last years playoffs) They beat the champs a game or two and think they are really good. In this league the playoffs are the time when good teams prove they can walk the walk. Miami last year without bosh totally took them apart after they showed arrogance and thought they were too good. Its time to prove it Pacers…. Hope we get to see you in the EC Finals if you survive the first and second round lol.

    • Xiresilver says:

      arrogant, someone obviousely needs a reality check. Its called confidence you idiot, as far as i’m concerned, Frank Vogel is the best thing that ever happened to Indiana this decade, much like Tom Crean in IU, just watch. On draft day, when Paul George was drafted, he was predicted to be the best player out of that draft in 3-5 years, now a 1st time all-star that scored 17, I don’t care who you are, that’s damn good