Posts Tagged ‘Chris Copeland’

Pacers’ Game 7 Quest A Worthy Goal


VIDEO: Paul George scores 36 as the Pacers take down the Clippers

Be careful what you wish for.

As adages go, it’s not the most inspiring, right? Chase your dream, go for it, you only live once, flyin’ high now … except maybe you’ll regret it later. It’s the kind of conflicted message that, imparted at just the right time in a person’s life, keeps the shrinks’ and therapists’ kids in private schools.

The Indiana Pacers aren’t worried about all that. They want what they want. And they want home-court advantage in the NBA playoffs, specifically in the Eastern Conference finals (should they manage to get there).

They want it for the same reason they’re supposed to want Andrew Bynum – so the Miami Heat can’t have it. The value of being at home for the ultimate game in a best-of-seven series was seered into the Pacers’ brains June 3 – Miami 99, Indiana 76 – and has been the clearest, most shining goal in their tear through the season’s first half with the league’s best record.

The obvious downside, potentially, is that chasing that regular-season goal might sabotage the Pacers in their pursuit of the bigger prize: the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Coach Frank Vogel, breakout star Paul George, center Roy Hibbert – the ViceRoy of Verticality – and the rest have been asked about the potential for stubbing their toes almost as much as they’ve been asked about the championship itself.

Yet here they sit, nearly halfway through the grind, with a 3.5-game lead over the Heat and 1.5 over San Antonio and Portland in the Western Conference. None of the Pacers has broken down, no one has come up lame. They open their longest trip of the season Monday night at Golden State, a five-gamer bouncing through the West, showing no signs of flagging or peaking too soon.

Indiana targeted its brass ring for the season and methodically has gone after it. It has given them an identity and a purpose, and imposed some order on what – for the best teams, the ones likeliest to be playing in June – can be an amorphous and ponderous six months.

This has not been a burden, George said Saturday after a 106-92 victory over the Clippers.

“Not really. I don’t see it within this whole locker room,” the Pacers’ All-Star guard said. “It feels great going out there. I really don’t see it draining us. We just want to build habits for our team right now.”

The Miami Heat can scoff, wag a finger and remind the Pacers and their fans that one false move in a Game 1 or Game 2 come springtime – a squandered lead, a fluke play late – can flip the home-court advantage back to them. The two-time defending champions also can talk ominously about burnout, overuse injuries or other ills that could befall Indiana as a result of pushing so hard through 82.

Now, the Heat didn’t much heed such talk when they were winning 27 in a row last winter. But they have earned the right to “manage” the schedule and, given Miami’s roster, discretion rather than over-exertion is the better part of valor. The same might hold for San Antonio with its wrinkled wonders, though pacing the Spurs through the regular season hasn’t brought a ring home lately. The last time San Antonio won (2007), its main guys still were relatively teething.

Biggest difference, DefRtg vs. league average
Team Season DefRtg Lg. avg. Diff.
Indiana 2013-14 92.6 102.9 -10.3
Boston 2007-08 96.2 104.7 -8.6
San Antonio 2003-04 91.6 100.0 -8.5
New York 1992-93 97.1 105.3 -8.2
New York 1993-94 95.8 103.6 -7.8
Detroit 2003-04 92.5 100.0 -7.5
San Antonio 2004-05 95.8 103.1 -7.3
San Antonio 1998-99 92.1 99.2 -7.1
Chicago 2010-11 97.4 104.5 -7.1
Chicago 2006-07 97.0 103.7 -6.7
Since turnovers started being counted in 1977-78
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions

Developing habits, throwing victories on the pile and working game-by-game through the schedule as if building something magnificent brick-by-brick suits these Pacers. They’re young enough: George and Lance Stephenson are 23, Hibbert just turned 27, point guard George Hill is 27, and they’re the only guys averaging 30 minutes or more. They’ve been healthy: with the exception of Danny Granger, Hill (three) is the only member of their top nine who has missed more than one game.

Besides, it’s not as if they’re going to suddenly decide: “Nah, never mind. Not worth it.” Indiana is 21-1 at home this season. The Pacers have had a home-court edge like few teams, dating back to before several on this season’s team were born: 25 consecutive winning seasons in Indianapolis.

Bankers Life Fieldhouse was packed and crazed Saturday, on a snowy January night despite whiteout conditions on the highways leading downtown. And before Game 7 last June, there was Game 6, a blowout Pacers victory in which LeBron James was a minus-22.

By the way, in that game, Indiana’s reserves chipped in just eight points on 3-of-5 shooting. But that was then – this season’s bench is one reason Vogel and the Pacers feel they can push hard and go deep. Where once there was Tyler Hansbrough, D.J. Augustin and Sam Young, there is Luis Scola, C.J. Watson and Granger, renewed after his knee and calf layoffs.

Scola is shooting 50.2 percent and matching his career best of 10.4 rebounds per 36 minutes. Watson has been shooting 51.3 percent in fourth quarters, including 43.9 percent from 3-point range, with 46 percent of his makes coming in that quarter. Granger patiently probed the Clippers defense Saturday, gave Doc Rivers‘ crew another threat to account for and wound up with 12 points, scoring in double figures for the ninth time in 14 games back.

“We’ve got a lot of weapons in this locker room and we’ve always had a next-man-up mentality,” said power forward David West, who seemingly put Indiana in harm’s way Saturday with his flagrant-2 foul on Blake Griffin at the end of the second quarter. “If a guy goes down – like tonight, I got ejected, or a guy gets injured – the next guy’s got to be ready to step up.”

Every team and coach in the NBA says that, and it’s easy for the ones that have stayed healthy. Then again, real depth is real depth.

“I think we wear teams down,” backup forward Chris Copeland said. “We go as-many-players-as-you-want deep. Every lineup, every unit that [Vogel] puts on the floor is dangerous.”

Pretty much: Of Vogel’s top 10 heavily used lineups, only one (Hibbert, George, Hill, Scola and Orlando Johnson) has been “underwater” with a 79.9 offensive rating vs. 107.6 defensive rating. And they’ve been on the floor together just 30 minutes out of 1,877 this season.

Otherwise, the Pacers have been taking names and kicking rears. They have lost two games in a row only once so far, and of their seven defeats, five have come on the second night of back-to-back games. And guess what? There are no back-to-backs in the playoffs.

Look, be careful what you wish for isn’t bad advice. At its core, it suggests a cautious approach while, y’know, still wishing for something big. Literature, film and TV are rife with examples of great quests that end without payoff: The Maltese Falcon that inspired so much skullduggery ends up being a fake in the end. The ark that propelled Indiana Jones across continents is crated and warehoused by the end of Raiders. Don’t even get me started on Moby Dick.

But the Pacers’ hearts want what they want, and there’s no putting them off that goal now. If they get it, and even if Miami or someone else snatches away the home-court advantage early in a series, Indiana still will have at home – where its players, coaches and fans believe it matters – any Game 7 it faces.

That is worth chasing.

Anatomy, And Appreciation, Of Paul George’s ‘Dunk Of Year’

VIDEO: Paul George throws down a 360-degree windmill dunk against the Clippers.

INDIANAPOLIS – What Paul George pulled out of the trick bag midway through the fourth quarter Saturday night, for the record, isn’t even something he unleashes in practice. If anything, The Dunk That Briefly Blew Up The Internet at Bankers Life Fieldhouse is reserved for the layup line, a reward for those paying attention but mostly to get some adrenaline pumping for George and his Indiana Pacers teammates.

“I always say, ‘You can’t do that in a game,’ ” teammate Lance Stephenson said later. “But he did it tonight. He didn’t say nothing, but I know he was like, ‘Told ya I could do it.’ “

There were six minutes left. George already had 34 points, his 3-pointer moments earlier pushing Indiana’s lead over the Los Angeles Clippers back to 20. Challenged by the ejection of forward David West for a flagrant-2 foul (high elbow swipe) on the Clippers’ Blake Griffin at the end of the second quarter, the Pacers used a 13-2 run up to the quarter’s midpoint to secure their home record (21-1, making this the 25th consecutive season Indiana has been above .500 at home).

Nothing, at 94-74, was still in doubt. Then George stole the ball from Darren Collison, raced downcourt and went Slam Dunk, uppercase, for the viewing audience.

His 360-degree, windmill throwdown was half-man, half-homage, the sort of thing vintage Vince Carter would save for a late round on All Star Saturday. Play of the Night? More like Dunk of the Season.

“That’s dunk of the year,” said the excitable Stephenson. “I’ve never seen that dunk live in a game before. I wanted to celebrate, but they didn’t call timeout, so … that dunk was crazy.”

Said Pacers reserve Chris Copeland: “That was unbelievable. That would have gotten 10′s in a dunk contest. But in the game? That makes it 10 times more impressive.”

Look at the video embedded with this post. Then look at it again. And again. If a picture’s worth a thousand words, as the saying goes, the highlight clip of George’s dunk saves all of us from struggling – and failing – to properly describe the spontaneity, the creativity and the joy in what he did.

Saves him, too, as he shrugged it off afterward.

“Just getting back to having fun,” George said. “Showin’ I’ve still got it in my legs. Y’know, putting on a show for everybody coming down to support us at Bankers Life.”

But not necessarily inspired by Carter? “Yeah, I mean, he’s definitely a dunker I idolized growing up,” George said. “Again, it was just being out there, playing free and having fun. … I never really practice dunks. I just go out there and whatever happens in a game, I just let it go.”

That raised a question in the locker room that already was burning up Twitter. What’s more impressive: a breathtaking, thoroughly artistic dunk in the open court like the one George had just authored, or something more fierce, challenged in traffic, the dunk that requires as much power as grace to get two points over – or better yet, through – somebody?

This one was huge, especially against the team that — with Griffin, with DeAndre Jordan — rains pebble-grained terror down on the entire league. Yet almost to a man, the Pacers – George included – seemed to prefer the contested throwdown.

“Hmmm, I’d probably say a dunk over somebody. Because there’s defense,” said West, not surprising given his power game. “When you’re out there by yourself, you’re trying to dunk [for the crowd]. When you dunk on somebody, you know they’re trying to stop you.”

Said George: “It’s always better to dunk on somebody. Those are momentum-swingers.  But I guess putting on a show ignites the crowd and it carries the same value as dunking on somebody.”

Copeland split the difference, and imagined George’s dunk graphically plotted as if on shot chart, ranking high in a thicket of all those traffic slams.

“That one right there would top a lot of fierce dunks,” Copeland said. “I personally like fierce dunks. I’d rather see you go over somebody. I think that’s as hard as it gets, to have a body in front of you. Fast-break dunks are not usually as tough as a ‘poster,’ a body, but that one? And I’m not even an open-court guy but that would be on top of my list.

“You saw our reaction on the bench. It speaks for itself.”

What do you think? Check out NBA.com’s Top 10 Dunks from 2013:

VIDEO: The Top 10 Dunks from 2013.

Hibbert Not Rejecting Early DPOY Talk


VIDEO: Hibbert runs wild, records eight blocks in win over Bucks

Selfishness on a basketball court most frequently manifests itself on offense, where a scorer’s tunnel-vision can lead to gunning or a teammate can seem more like a rival if he looks you off a couple of times down the floor.

Defensively, it shows with gambling too often for steals, roaming far and wide in search of blocks or rebounds or just plain failing to exert oneself. Indiana center Roy Hibbert does none of that. So if he wants to exhibit a little selfishness in terms of individual acclaim, the Pacers have no gripes. His individual goal to be named 2013-14 NBA Defensive Player of the Year would almost certainly lead to, or at least be a big part of, team success.

“Now he’s very vocal about wanting that Defensive Player of the Year, and he’s going out and playing like he wants it,” Pacers guard Paul George said. “In years past, he played like a Defensive Player of the Year but it wasn’t, I don’t think, his goal. Now he’s approaching it as a goal.”

The 7-foot-2 Hibbert, who will turn 27 on Dec. 11, has brought it up in interviews unsolicited. He has posted about it on Twitter. All the chatter serves as motivation, publicly challenging himself the way a smoker might announce and track his quitting. There’s nothing covetous about his stated goals, and definitely nothing new in his game.

“I’m doing the exact same things I was doing last year,” Hibbert said after Indiana’s game last weekend in Chicago. “I worked on putting on a little bit more size. But I swear, I didn’t really work on defense at all this summer. This is how I’ve always been playing.”

Only better. Hibbert, through the first 10 games, was averaging 4.6 blocks, a career high (his previous was 2.6 last season). And the obstacle he presents in the paint has been a mental block as well as a physical one for opposing shooters; they’re converting only 35 percent of their attempts at the rim, according to NBA.com/Stats. Compare that to Dwight Howard‘s early-season rate of 47.7 percent or DeAndre Jordan‘s 63 percent.

“He’s gotten a little better each year in that regard, but he’s been doing close to what he’s doing now,” Indiana coach Frank Vogel said. “The league’s just recognized it.

“I thought he should have won [DPOY] last year. There were a lot of deserving guys out there, but in my mind, he’s the best rim protector in the game. We were the best defensive team last year. So far we’re the best defensive team this year. And he’s the anchor of our defense.”


VIDEO: Arena Link with Roy Hibbert about his solid start to the season

Hibbert’s commitment to his craft — working with the obvious advantage of his length but not all that much more when he got to Indianapolis — has been widely chronicled. And respected.

“You have to give him a lot of credit,” said coach Tom Thibodeau, the Bulls’ connoisseur of defense. “He was a highly skilled player in college at Georgetown. But he did a great job with his body — he changed his body when he got into the league, and that takes a serious commitment. Each year he’s gotten better. And he’s embraced his role with that team. He’s not worried about his offense. He does his role — he stars in his role.”

New Pacers forward Chris Copeland has peeked behind the curtain at Hibbert’s game.

“I didn’t know, playing against him, how good he was,” Copeland said. “Actually seeing him every day — you don’t really get to know a guy until you practice with him and see his work ethic and things he does behind the scenes — he’s phenomenal. People who think he’s good already, he’s going to surprise a lot of them.

“I can’t speak for other teams but I think he affects their game plans. And he’s playing both sides of the ball — offensively, he’s a load as well. You’ve got to throw him up there with the best in the game.”

While Hibbert is busy opening eyes around the league, he already has done that among the NBA’s officials. Maybe the biggest change this season is how consistent the referees have been in adjudicating Hibbert’s work around the basket when met by attacking ballhandlers. He has become the gold standard in the “law of verticality” (as his block on Carmelo Anthony in the 2013 East semis demonstrated) that spells the difference between foul trouble and interior intimidation.

Hibbert started regularly getting those calls last season, especially in the playoffs, and it has continued.

“I mean, they’re used to it now,” Hibbert said. “But also, I tell ‘em, ‘If I’m not straight up, if I’m turning, call a foul.’ So I can learn. And they’ve been doing that. When I go straight up, they’ve been giving me the benefit of the doubt. When I don’t, I’ve got to learn somehow.”

Hibbert’s shot-blocking rate, if it lasts, would make him the first NBA defender to average 4.6 since Manute Bol (4.96) in 1985-86. Hakeem Olajuwon averaged 4.59 four years after that. Dikembe Mutombo (4.49 in 1995-96) was the most recent player to average more than 4.0. Regardless of the number, Hibbert sounds proud of how he collects them without warping his or his team’s game.

“There are a lot of guys who lead the league in shot-blocking, but they are ‘help’ shot blockers,” the big man said. “So they just roam around and block shots and grab offensive rebounds. Me, I take pride in guarding [Carlos] Boozer, guarding [Joakim] Noah 1-on-1 in the post. Guarding whoever it is. So I feel like I can do both: help-side, shot-blocking defense and on-the-ball defense. Some guys aren’t great on the ball. I want to be able to do both.”

As much as the Pacers value Hibbert’s inside work, he appreciates the offensive options around him — George’s burgeoning game, David West‘s mid-range pops — that keep him fresh at the other end. “I can focus all my energy on defense and maybe still get 10 points just off offensive rebounds or little duck-ins,” he said. “I know my place. I’m not going to be one of those 18-20 points-a-game guys. I want to be a 15-10, 13-10, be solid. And get some blocks.”

A trophy, too. It’s not a chant that trips lightly off the tongue — “DPOY! DPOY!” — when he steps to the foul line. But Hibbert will settle for hearing it once, at season’s end.


VIDEO: Roy Hibbert records seven blocks on opening night

Barking Without Bite Still Pricey For Boozer, Copeland

The feisty Carlos Boozer received his first technical and ejection of the season in last night's romp of the Pacers.

Carlos Boozer received his first ejection of the season last night against the Pacers (Ned Dishman/NBAE/Getty Images).

CHICAGO – Near the end of the Indiana-Chicago game Saturday night at United Center, Carlos Boozer and Chris Copeland exchanged some shoves and some words. Wham! Bam! Referee Marc Davis got them T’d up, ejected and off the floor quickly, and upheld it all after a replay review.

Many in attendance, especially some former players now in the employ of the two teams, and in the locker rooms were a little startled at the severity of the penalties.

“Honestly, I have never been ejected from anything a day in my life,” Copeland said afterward, welcoming the chance to give his interpretation. “It’s not who I am, it’s not what I’m about. But I felt like at the end of the game, I felt him push me in my back after the play was over. I felt it was unnecessary. I’m not here for that.

“I didn’t think it was an ejection-type situation. I thought it was just, you push me, I push you back.”

It was woofing, all bark, no bite. From the refs’ standpoint, it might have made sense to douse things before a fuse could get lit, given the history of orneriness and vague dislike between the two teams, as well as a game that already was decided if not quite over.

Problem is, the technical fouls will cost Boozer and Copeland $2,000 each, the ejections cost another $2,000 and both count toward their season totals, which can lead to escalating fines, unless something gets rescinded from the league office Monday. Some longtime observers in the arena thought dueling technicals, one each, might have been more appropriate.

“I respect [the decision],” Copeland said. “I just hope it’s not anything serious.

“I just wanted to defend myself as a human, blindsided, cheap-shot pushed in the back. I felt that’s not cool, I’m not going to let you do that.”

The technicals and the ejections were the first each this season for both players. Already this season, the NBA has rescinded technical fouls called in the moment against Carmelo Anthony (Oct. 30 vs. Milwaukee) and Isaiah Thomas (Nov. 1 vs. the Clippers).

Copeland’s Journey Took Him Much Farther Than New York To Indiana


VIDEO: Chris Copeland talks at Pacers Media Day

DALLAS – Begin to ask Chris Copeland how surreal it …; and the Indiana Pacers’ dread-locked power forward interrupts, “You mean my whole entire story?”

No, not that. Start in again and ask him about his stunning relocation from …; and Copeland again interrupts, “From Belgium?”

Actually from New York to Indiana.

In many ways, the 29-year-old (former) ever-hopeful overseas-league veteran remains more awe-struck by his winding journey through Europe that landed him in the NBA with the Knicks than by his surprising defection to the Pacers.

“Any time we can take a weapon away from someone else and put him on our team that’s always a good thing,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “He’s someone that puts defenses’ nervous systems on [tilt]. He’s such a good shooter that you have to honor him and he gives you immediate spacing.”

The 6-foot-8, 235-pounder boasting coveted 3-point range is part of the Pacers’ reinforced and much-ballyhooed bench unit. He indeed can be a weapon. At some point he’ll even stop pinching himself as a reminder that he is actually living the dream that always seemed like a slowly rolling loose rebound, right there to snare, but always just beyond his finger tips.

Last season as the Class of 2006′s lone rookie, Copeland averaged 8.7 points in 15.4 mpg. He shot 42.1 percent from beyond the arc, tops among all rookies, second among power forwards and 13th overall. He made $473,604 with the Knicks. He’ll make $6.1 million over the next two seasons with the Pacers.

“I pinch myself every day,” Copeland told NBA.com last Friday prior to Indiana’s final preseason game against the Mavericks. “Even being here now I feel like I’m going to wake up back overseas somewhere saying, ‘OK, that was a good dream, that was a good one.’ It’s definitely surreal.”

Copeland played four seasons at Colorado and spent 2006-07 with the defunct Fort Worth Flyers of the NBA Development League before launching a European career. First came Spain, then Germany and, most recently Belgium, where he posted 18.5 ppg and 5.6 rpg over two seasons with Okapi Aalstar.

He had waited year after year for the NBA to call, for all the hard work to once-and-for-all reward him with his big break. Yet each passing birthday seemed only to kick the NBA further down the road. Only a few who’ve traveled this path find storybook endings. Gary Neal was 26 when he seized upon the San Antonio Spurs’ invite to leave Europe for a shot at Summer League. P.J. Tucker was 27 when the Phoenix Suns gave him a shot to resurrect his brief NBA career after five years overseas.

“You always have your days when you’re tired, but it’s a dream my family and I said when I was really small that that’s what I was going to do,” Copeland said. “It’s hard to turn my back or take days off. And to lay down that dream was impossible. That’s why, I mean, I shed a lot of tears over this game. I made promises that I wanted to keep to certain people. I just couldn’t, I couldn’t just fold.”

Six years after leaving Colorado, he got a call to join the Knicks in Summer League. Copeland was the team’s best player and he made the Knicks’ roster, eventually becoming a key rotation player. The Pacers, having taken the Miami Heat to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, were determined to strengthen their bench. They presented the restricted free agent with an offer sheet that the salary-cap-strapped Knicks couldn’t match.

Just like that, Copeland was headed to the hated Pacers, the team that dumped the Knicks in the East semifinals.

“[New York] was definitely a place I fell in love with, but here I am,” Copeland said. “It’s still funny, we make jokes about each other, the battles that we had last year. It’s definitely a change of atmosphere. They were our rivals, which was tough on the decision-making process, but it’s a great group of guys, a great staff. I don’t regret it. I’m glad I’m here.”

He joins crafty forward Luis Scola and veteran point guard C.J. Watson on a Pacers bench that will also include either Lance Stephenson or Danny Granger depending which one Vogel tabs as the starter (Granger will miss the first three weeks of the season with a calf injury). Copeland hasn’t demonstrated his long-range touch quite yet, connecting in the preseason on just 9-of-41 (22.2 percent) from 3-point range where he’s launched all but 14 of his shot attempts. But no one’s counting just yet.

“The biggest thing for Chris is to get acclimated to our system defensively,” David West said. “Obviously we know he can play offense. He can shoot the ball, he can score, but he’s got to get acclimated to how we play defensively because we’re a defensive-minded team first. But he’s going to help us at various points throughout the year.”

One Team, One Stat: Pacers Defend It All

From Media Day until opening night, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann will provide a key stat for each team in the league and show you, with film and analysis, why it matters. Up next are the Indiana Pacers, who were one game away from reaching The Finals..

The basics
IND Rank
W-L 49-32 8
Pace 92.8 25
OffRtg 101.6 19
DefRtg 96.6 1
NetRtg +5.0 7

The stat

1st - Where the Pacers ranked in defending the restricted area, defending corner threes, and defending above-the-break threes.

The context

Those are the three most important areas of the floor, so yeah, the Pacers had the best defense in the league. The last team to lead the league in defending the restricted area and the 3-point line was the 2000-01 Spurs.

Roy Hibbert was largely responsible for the Pacers’ success at defending the rim. Indiana opponents shot just 50.4 percent in the restricted area with Hibbert on the floor, the lowest mark for any defender in the league who faced at least 500 restricted-area shots from opponents. Indy opponents shot 57.2 percent in the restricted area with Hibbert off the floor.

The general idea behind the Pacers’ defense is that, with Paul George sticking to the opponent’s best wing scorer (even through screens), Hibbert was able to stay home at the rim and the other guys were able to stay at home on shooters. Of course, that’s a lot more simple than it really is, and the Pacers do help off their man. They just don’t over-help and make the same communication mistakes that we saw in the Nets’ video last week.

Here are clips from Game 6 of the first round, where the Hawks shot just 9-for-19 from the restricted area and 3-for-19 from 3-point range…


The Pacers’ biggest issue last season was their bench. But their bench defended the 3-point line a lot better than their starters did. In the regular season at least, Indiana’s depth issues were all about offense.

Pacers’ efficiency and opponent 3-point shooting, regular season

Lineups MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/- Opp3PM Opp3PA Opp3PT%
Starters 1,218 108.6 96.5 +12.1 +284 136 376 36.2%
Other lineups 2,698 98.5 96.7 +1.8 +42 304 968 31.4%

A lot of that is the opposing lineups the bench was facing. The were facing other reserves who didn’t shoot as well or even create as many open shots. But that 36.2 percent from beyond the arc that the starters allowed would have ranked 19th in the league. And every player in the Pacers’ rotation had a on-court DefRtg of less than 99 points per 100 possessions. After Tony Allen (94.3), Gerald Green had the lowest on-court DefRtg (95.1) among players who logged at least 1,000 minutes last season.

The playoffs were a different story though…

Pacers’ efficiency and opponent 3-point shooting, playoffs

Lineups MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/- Opp3PM Opp3PA Opp3PT%
Starters 414 109.5 94.7 +14.8 +126 49 146 33.6%
Other lineups 502 94.5 107.4 -12.9 -123 85 231 36.8%

So the Pacers went shopping for a bench this summer. They said goodbye to D.J. Augustin, Green, Tyler Hansbrough and Sam Young, bringing in Chris Copeland, Luis Scola and C.J. Watson. The return of Danny Granger also boosts the second-unit offense, whether it’s Granger or Lance Stephenson coming off the bench.

The Pacers’ offense should definitely be better. But it will be interesting to see if the second-unit defense is as strong as it was last season. As both the Bulls and Pacers have shown over the last few years, ranking No. 1 defensively takes 10 guys.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Pacers May Look To Stephenson To Put A ‘Whoa!’ To Bench Woes

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CHICAGO
– Some phobias can be worse than others, depending on one’s circumstances. For someone who makes his living in the NBA, gigaphobia – a pathological fear of tall people – would be a problem. So, for that matter, would aerophobia, the fear of flying.

But the five players who started most often for the Indiana Pacers last season set clinicians’ tongues to wagging when they began to develop an oddly contagious case of kathisophobia.

Otherwise known as the fear of sitting down.

“There were times we felt like guys should stay in the game,” center Roy Hibbert said Friday night, “and that we always should have at least two or three starters out there.”

Sitting down became a scary proposition for the Pacers’ starters because no team experienced the sort of performance dropoff – primarily  offensively – that Indiana did when three, two or even just one bench guy subbed in.

When the first unit of Hibbert, David West, Paul George, Lance Stephenson and George Hill was on the floor in 2012-13 in regular season games, Indiana had an offensive rating of 108.6 and a defensive rating of 96.5 for a net of 12.1. When any other lineup was out there, the advantage flattened (98.5/96.7/1.8).

A group of reserves – primarily D.J. Augustin, Ian Mahinmi, Gerald Green, Tyler Hansbrough and Sam Young – that was supposed to develop into something reliable never did.

“In the beginning of the year,” West said after the preseason loss to Chicago at United Center Friday, “we were playing 10, 11 guys, and I don’t know if that worked as well as we hoped. We made some adjustments, making sure there were a couple starters on the floor at all times. Found some lineups in terms of chemistry that worked, and things started to get better for us.”

Maybe, but it didn’t last. The dropoff got much worse in the playoffs: 109.5/94.7/14.8 for the starters to 94.5/107.4/-12.9 for the backups. And in the Eastern Conference finals against Miami, the simplest way to put it is that the Pacers’ first unit outscored the Heat by 46 points. But the bench guys got beat by 74. It only went seven games because the Hibbert-West-George-Stephenson-Hill group stayed on the floor longer than all other combinations put together.

Understandably, there have been changes. Augustin, Green, Hansbrough, Young and Miles Plumlee are gone. Mahinmi is back, but he has been joined by guard C.J. Watson, forwards Luis Scola and Chris Copeland and rookie Solomon Hill. Danny Granger is back, too, after missing almost the entire season with a knee injury, adding to what is hoped – no, actually what had better be – a deeper, more reliable roster. Top to nearly bottom.

The Pacers’ 0-5 mark with 11 days left in the preseason isn’t a cause for panic yet. Their schedule has been outrageous, with the longest of the NBA’s Global Games trips (Philippines and Taiwan) and now a stretch of four consecutive October road tuneups. Granger still is working his body and conditioning into game shape. Derrick Rose went on a 32-point romp in an early-comeback performance with a 2010-11 smell.

Still, the newness of all those freshly acquired Indiana subs has been showing.

“Obviously we’ve added some experience,” West said, “But we’ve got to get guys acclimated to the way that we play. It’s taking us probably a little more time than we expected, but we have faith in the guys in this locker room. And we know the [defensive] mindset, our approach every single day, is something guys have got to adjust to.”

Scola, for instance, was indecisive and out of rhythm against the Bulls Friday, shooting 1-of-5, committing three turnovers and holding the ball out top while desperately seeking unfamiliar teammates. The 6-foot-9 veteran is considered one of the prize pickups of the summer, an international star who has averaged 14.2 points and 7.5 rebounds in six NBA seasons. But he also started 371 of 386 games the past five years, so his preseason stats (9.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 36.4 percent shooting) can be attributed in part to his new role.

New system, new coaches, new teammates, new emphasis on defense, new role – it’s a lot.

“I hope I can bring a lot,” Scola said Friday. “I’m not sure. I’m trying to find a way to be more effective in this position. I’m not sure exactly how it’s going to work out. It’s just a different way to play.”

Watson is averaging 6.0 points with 11 turnovers to five assists. Copeland got on the floor for 12 seconds against the Bulls and has missed 26 of his 34 field goal attempts. Teams have outscored the Pacers 500-453 through five games.

The Granger-Stephenson decision eventually has to get made, too. Initially, lots of folks took the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach, suggesting Granger be used off the bench to avoid, at least, disrupting the bankable starting five.

Then again, Granger’s shooting range could be a big help to the first group. And Stephenson, who subbed in for the first time this preseason Friday, really asserted himself with the backups. He fouled out after missing some key free throws late, but Stephenson scored 11 points with seven rebounds and eight assists, playing 34:22 partly because Granger’s left calf strain flared up.

“I’ve always started, so obviously I’m more comfortable doing that,” Granger told NBA.com afterward. “And Lance, he’s more of a playmaker. So when he’s in the second group, I think he actually excels more. He has the ball in his hands, he can make plays. When he’s with the starting group, the ball’s going into the post or Paul [George] has it. I play off the ball a lot.”

Coach Frank Vogel said he called a play for Stephenson “nine or 10 straight times” against the Bulls. If the fourth-year wing can take a stride this season similar to what he did last season, he or Granger can bring serious relief to the Pacers’ backups.

The thing is, with expectations high for a run at The Finals, there really is no room for if’s.

“He’s just a load,” West said of Stephenson. “He’s a playmaker, a shot maker, a shot creator. Lance is a big part of what we’re trying to do, and he has to have a great year for us. He’s beyond that stage of kind of proving himself. It’s time for him literally to be who we know he is.”

Soon enough, it will be time for the Pacers’ upgraded bench to prove that it is, too.

Bird Chases Heat, Still Never Feels It

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MANILA, Philippines – Fish swim. Frogs jump.

It’s good to know that two decades after his retirement, another constant in the world is that Larry Bird still flaps his wings and soars with his quick one-liners and trademark cockiness.

When asked by a Filipino reporter whether he feels more pressure as a Pacers executive than he did during his Hall of Fame career with the Celtics, Bird grinned.

“Pressure? I don’t know what that is,” Bird said to a roomful of laughter. “Obviously, you never seen me play.”

It wasn’t quite walking into the locker room prior to the 3-point Shootout at the 1986 All-Star Weekend in Dallas and asking the rest of the field, “Who’s comin’ in second?” But it was a peek at the old Bird who’s back in his role as president of basketball operations and wants his Pacers to take the next step after pushing Miami to a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference finals last season.

“Right now, the Miami Heat are the best team,” Bird said. “They’ve won two years in a row. They’ve been to the Finals three years in a row and until somebody beats them, they’re still the best team.

“What we’re trying to do is build a team that can compete on a nightly level…We have a lot of young players. I don’t compare this team to (my) Celtics teams because it’s a completely different style that we play. But I do think we’re good enough, we’re deep enough to compete for a championship.

“Obviously last year they got to the Eastern Conference finals and Game 7 against Miami, but until we make the next step we’re not there. I do like our chances.

“We’ve got a good starting five, but our bench has got to play better than it did last year. I know how hard it is to win these championships. It’s not easy. But we do have a group of good guys that play together and pull for one another. I think things we just have to get a little lucky.

“I really believe that we’re built for the playoffs. But when the playoffs come, we’ve got to be ready because there are gonna be challenges facing us.

“It’s not easy out there. Chicago got Derrick (Rose) back. The Brooklyn Nets, the New York Knicks and they’re all good. And, of course, there’s Miami. It’s a challenge, no question about it.”

Bird said he believes the necessary pieces are in place for the Pacers to go the distance, especially since they have added to their depth over the summer with three key moves.

“I think we’re pretty much set where we are right now,” he said. Last year, with the performance of our bench I think they (Miami) hurt us by not being able to score the basketball.

“We got C.J. (Watson) a good back-up point guard, Chris Copeland from New York, a dead-eye shooter, and of course Luis Scola. He’s a little bit older now, but for what we need, he’s perfect. Just three moves that we made we think are going to make us stronger. It looks good on paper, but we’ll see what happens. Look, I know how hard it is to win a championship. ”

Now, as then, Larry Bird just never feels the pressure.

Bench Mobs: Four That Got Better

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Every general manager’s goal is to assembly an energetic, productive bench.

A strong second unit filled with single-minded role players enhances a team’s chances at winning. Just look at the two-time champion Miami Heat and perennially contending San Antonio Spurs: both clubs received significant bench contributions throughout the 2012-13 season. Still, a deep and talented bench does not ensure success — the Los Angeles Clippers being Exhibit A.

Arguably the NBA’s deepest bench last season, L.A.’s reserves ranked fourth in scoring and second in overall production (points, assists and rebounds combined). The second unit of Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom and Ronny Turiaf ranked as the third-best defensive unit in the league. Yet the Clippers lost in the first round to the Memphis Grizzlies, whose thin bench was considered a major weakness.

The goal is to build a well-rounded and deep roster that doesn’t falter when the starters sit, that can change pace when needed and can light it up just as well as lock it down.

Four teams looking to make a charge in their respective conferences — including the all-in Clippers and the go-getter Golden State Warriors in the West; and in the East the rugged-but-reinforcement-thin Indiana Pacers and the money-is-nothing Brooklyn Nets — completed significant offseason signings and trades that should bolster each club’s depth:

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS

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Loses: G Bledsoe, G Chauncey Billups, F Odom (still available), F Grant Hill (retired), F/C Turiaf

Additions: G J.J. Redick, G/F Jared Dudley, G Darren Collison, F Reggie Bullock (draft pick)

Why they’re better: Only two members of the aforementioned third-ranked defensive unit, Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes, are returning as of today (Odom remains a possibility) to the Clippers’ second unit, so they could slip defensively. But the firepower is all-world with Redick (a 39 percent career 3-point shooter) and Dudley (40.5 percent) joining Sixth Man runner-up Crawford (35.0 percent). Collison has plenty to prove after twice losing his starting job in Dallas to late-30-somethings Derek Fisher and Mike James. The ultra-quick Collison backed up Chris Paul as a rookie in New Orleans and he now has a defined role that should suit his game. Plenty of experience and savvy leaves town in Hill and Billups, but they played a combined 51 games last season. Hill was not part of the playoff rotation until former coach Vinny Del Negro got desperate late in the first-round series loss. New coach and senior vice president of basketball operations Doc Rivers has given himself plenty of options with a bench unit that might top last season’s group. Free agents Barnes, center Ryan Hollins and guard Willie Green return.

GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

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Loses: Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry

Additions: Marreese Speights, Toney Douglas, C Jermaine O’Neal, Nemanja Nedovic (draft pick)

Why they’re better: Simply, Andre Iguodala. Acquiring the veteran forced out Jack and Landry, but also provides instant depth for a young team that basically rode seven players in the playoffs after David Lee injured his hip. The tough call for coach Mark Jackson will be moving either semi-conscious shooter Klay Thompson or confident forward Harrison Barnes to the bench (both started every game they played last season) to make room for the 6-foot-6 Iguodala. Thompson could challenge for Sixth Man of the Year honors and he’d easily replace the scoring punch Jack provided. The second-year Barnes, who truly emerged during the playoffs, can provide everything the blue-collar Landry delivered only with advanced skills in every facet, especially with his burgeoning offensive arsenal. Barnes could discover some very favorable matchups off the bench. Speights, more accurately, will be expected to fill Landry’s role. The Warriors also bring back impressive frontcourt youngsters Draymond Green and Festus Ezeli, who should benefit from the presence of the steady veteran O’Neal.

INDIANA PACERS

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Loses: F Tyler Hansbrough, F Jeff Pendergraph

Additions: F Chris Copeland, G C.J. Watson, G Donald Sloan, F Solomon Hill (draft pick)

Why they’re better: The wild card here is forward Danny Granger, who missed all but five games last season with a left knee injury but will be back. With Paul George emerging as a star, Granger could find himself as the Pacers’ sixth man — imagine that. A better bench might have pushed Indiana past Miami in the East finals. The Pacers were one of six teams whose bench averaged fewer than 80 mpg, and they ranked 29th in scoring. The veteran Watson should stabilize a backcourt that had no consistent answer (D.J. Augustin) coming off the bench last season. Watson is a solid veteran who rarely turns the ball over — less than one a game in 19.0 mpg last season with Brooklyn — and is the type of team-first player president of basketball operations Larry Bird wants for coach Frank Vogel. And then there’s the unexpected feather in Bird’s cap — forward Chris Copeland. The 29-year-old late-bloomer provided the Knicks with energetic play off the bench and surprising accuracy from beyond the arc (59-for-140, 42.1 percent). The 6-foot-8, 235-pounder gives Indy a rugged backup for David West and weakens a rival.

BROOKLYN NETS

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Loses: G C.J. Watson, G Keith Bogans, G MarShon Brooks, F Kris Humphries

Additions: G Jason Terry, G Shaun Livingston, G D.J. White, F Andrei Kirilenko, C/F Mason Plumlee (draft pick)

Why they’re better: While a pudgy Deron Williams hobbled about on bum ankles for the first couple of months last season, the Nets’ bench carried the team, so they were no slouches to begin with. But when you add Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the starting lineup, that turns rebounding machine Reggie Evans and offensive weapon Andray Blatche into reserves and instantly improves that group. Terry remains a dangerous streak shooter even after a down season in Boston. The 6-foot-7 Livingston has quietly resurrected his career and should find a home backing up D-Will, who played like an All-Star in the second half of last season. The coup was snagging Kirilenko, who signed for $3.18 million after opting out of his $10-million deal with Minnesota. Kirilenko is always a nagging injury away from missing handfuls of games at a time, but the 6-foot-9 countryman of Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov is a do-it-all stat-sheet-filler. He is a sneaky offensive presence on the baseline and a rangy defender the Nets can use against Carmelo Anthony and other rival scoring threats.

Blogtable: Best Offseason Transaction?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes 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.


Week 37: Dwight’s choice | Smartest early-offseason move | Summer League must-sees


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Which offseason transaction will look most brilliant next spring?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Andre Iguodala will help Golden State tremendously, and my hunch is it will show via an exciting regular season, a top-four seed in the West and a strong postseason run of two, maybe three rounds. Jarrett Jack played well for the Warriors last season but Iguodala can help facilitate their offense, too, without Jack’s occasional ball domination. And Iguodala can defend the league’s most dangerous wings, especially with the bonus motivation he’ll have from that contract-reneging thing Sacramento did last week.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Toss a coin: Doc Rivers to the Clippers or Andre Iguodala to the Warriors.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Andre Iguodala with Golden State. For the same reasons Denver loved him last season, Mark Jackson and the Warriors will love his experience on a young club, plus his size and rugged defending on the perimeter, a big-time need. Golden State ranked in the bottom half in the league last season giving up more than 100 points a game. Also, Iguodala really improved his 3-point shooting with the Nuggets as the season wore on and if that continues in Golden State then look out.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Rockets sign Dwight Howard. He will be healthier than last season with the Lakers, which is important. And he will be more engaged than last season with the Lakers, which is everything. He knows he can’t float through long stretches like before. D12 with issues was one of the best centers anyway. Howard with a renewed determination could be everything Houston hoped it would get. That gives him one season without the emotional drama.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The Indiana Pacers were one game from knocking off the Heat (and lost Game 1 at the buzzer) this year. Indy’s starting lineup outscored the Heat by 46 points in the series and was strong offensively all season, but their bench was absolutely awful. Along with the return of Danny Granger and the continued development of Paul George, the additions of shooters C.J. Watson and Chris Copeland could be what gets the Pacers over the hump.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: It’s hard to top the Los Angeles Clippers swiping Doc Rivers from the Boston Celtics at arguably the most critical juncture in franchise history to date (Chris Paul bolting for greener pastures in free agency would have had a far more devastating effect on the Clippers than anything Dwight Howard‘s departure will to the Los Angeles Lakers). But there is one transaction that sticks out. If Indiana Pacers boss Larry Bird is right about Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce having plenty left in their tanks, the Brooklyn Nets could very well be in the middle of the championship mix next spring. 

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: How about Utah trading with Golden State for Richard Jefferson, Andris Biedrins and Brandon Rush? And did we mention they get another first-round pick in 2014? I know it’s not a great trade from a basketball standpoint — it’s odd when you give up no players in a trade and don’t really improve — but with free agents Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap also gone, Utah now seems committed to youth next season. So, we’ll see a lot of Trey Burke, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, and they’ll lose a lot of games. But two first rounders in the prospect-rich 2014 Draft could make a big difference.