Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
Portland-Indiana on Monday. What’d that tell you about the Blazers? About the Pacers?
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: The game Monday told me I need to start staying up later more often for post-prime-time viewing of the Blazers on League Pass (though my alibi is iron-clad on this one, having sat through three overtimes at United Center Monday). It tells me I literally dare not sleep on Portland anymore. But it also tells me coach Terry Stotts was right in dismissing any notion of “statement game” in December. The Pacers arrived and left with the league’s best record, are several years beyond Portland in their life cycle as a contender and remain the more serious threat for May and June. Finally, it tells me I’ll want to be in Indianapolis on Feb. 7 when the Blazers show up there too.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: It told me the Blazers could stand up in the face of Indiana’s physical, rugged defensive game. It told me the Pacers were on the hind end of a back-to-back went the distance before losing a scorecard decision.
Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: First about the Pacers: A complete ball club, team-oriented, unselfish, defensive-minded. They’ve got a bona fide superstar on the wing, a very good big man in the middle, steady point guard play and now reserves that fit all the aforementioned descriptions. As for the Blazers, what a young core they’ve got being led by a mature, level-headed All-Star in LaMarcus Aldridge. With a bright coach, the addition of guard Mo Williams popping off the bench and that hostile homecourt edge, watch out. Portland very quickly has emerged as one of the most fun teams in the league to watch.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: It didn’t tell me anything about the Pacers. A road loss on the second night of a back-to-back against a team playing well is nothing set against what had come the previous four weeks. Indy proved itself to be a serious threat in the East last season and is doing the same this season. But it was telling for Portland. While this has been a playoff team from opening night, wins like Monday can’t help but build confidence. Beating arguably the best team in the league after trailing the first three quarters and shooting 47 percent and scoring 106 points on that defense is a real benchmark about where the Trail Blazers are in December.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It told me that the Blazers’ offense is legit. It was a fast-paced game, but they scored 106 points against the No. 1 defense in the league on the second night of a back-to-back. They’re a jump-shooting team, but that’s OK, because they can really shoot and Terry Stotts has them doing some cool stuff offensively. It also told me that Paul George is a top-five player. He was already a top-10 defender before this season and he has made such a leap offensively that he brings more to the table – when you consider both ends of the floor – than anybody but LeBron James and Kevin Durant. He’s in the 3-4-5 mix with Chris Paul and Dwight Howard.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: That Monday night showdown in Portland between the Trail Blazers and Pacers was an absolute showcase of two up-and-coming teams (“young” is probably no longer an appropriate term for either bunch) that have all the ingredients you need for contender. The Blazers snuck up on all of us. Neil Olshey has put together a balanced group that has star power (Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge) and quality role players (Wes Matthews, Nic Batum, Robin Lopez, Thomas Robinson, etc.) that fit together perfectly. Terry Stotts has done a fine job managing the process for all involved. I picked the Pacers to be the Miami Heat’s biggest hurdle this season after watching them push the Heat to the brink in the Eastern Conference finals last season. They are, as they say, exactly who I thought they were. Paul George is a superstar in training and his supporting cast (yes, supporting cast) is as solid as it gets. The other thing I love about the Pacers is they embrace every challenge the way they did Monday night’s game. They don’t run from a good showdown. That’s a great quality to have in a contender. It reminds me of the way Oklahoma City played on their way up. Statement games early in the NBA season are often rendered useless by All-Star Weekend. Injuries and other circumstances tend to have that effect on these things. But I have a feeling that showcase Monday night will be referred to again, perhaps for both teams, at some point down the line.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: I came away thinking that as great as Indiana has been this season, they could still use one more piece — a perimeter player, ideally. I could see them using a veteran guard who can control the flow of a game and really control an offense. I’m not sure who that player should be, but I just got an incomplete feeling watching them play. As for Portland, my main question is one civic leaders there have talked about for a while: sustainability. Can the Blazers keep up their terrific outside shooting all season? And, more importantly, can they continue to capture the heart and hustle they showed against Indiana?
Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: That game said that both teams are for real. I had no doubt about the Pacers, the best team in the league right now, but the Blazers proved once again they are among of the elite in the West. I still think they’re not deep enough to make a long run in the postseason, but their starting five is playing amazing basketball right now and they’ve earned the right to dream.
Xinbin Yang, NBA China: When Aldridge got a solid paint-zone partner, he really performed like Dirk three years ago. With Robin Lopez in the post, Aldridge has had to play five fewer minutes a game this year, and it’s liberated his offensive talent. The Blazers’ starting lineup was one of 5 the league’s best 5-man groups last season — it’s not shocking that they become much better, when they added so many weapons on the bench. George, in such a short time, has become a superstar talent. We know that. Going forward, the Pacers may need to explore sending George Hill to the bench, with his low efficiency. To me, Watson seems more suitable for the lineup of George-Hibbert-West-Lance.
Philipp Dornhegge, NBA Germany: The Blazers are for real, it seems. After they’ve upgraded their bench I wondered why most experts didn’t even see them making the playoffs. So far they’ve shown an improved defense, most notably Damian Lillard. Their offense has always been good. With the deeper roster they can now overcome weak games from one or a couple of their starters, the can play different styles and they have two legit stars in Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge. It might be too much to declare them contenders, but the Blazers can scare lots of teams. The Pacers, on the other hand, are still the best team in the East.