DALLAS – As late as Wednesday, after the Indiana Pacers beat the Rockets in Houston and then huddled around the nearest TV to catch the end of Bulls-Heat, they believed Danny Granger was coming back.
Word was as soon as Thursday night at Dallas.
All that changed in a matter of about 15 hours when coach Frank Vogel got the definitive news Thursday afternoon: Granger is done for 2012-13. After flare-ups followed a lone failed comeback bid in late February and early March led to another round of doctor consultations, the determination was for the former All-Star to undergo surgery on his troublesome left knee.
Granger’s next stop is the OR. But the Pacers’ is the postseason. As disappointing as the news is for Granger and his teammates, Indiana has reached this point — a dogfight with the New York Knicks for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference — without the him for all but five mostly ineffective games all season.
“It was surprising, I’ve been thinking he was coming back all along, but we can’t do anything about it now,” guard George Hill said. “I hope that he has a safe recovery and a quick recovery, but we have to move on as a team and continue doing what we’ve been doing all year long without him and that’s finding our identity and playing good, solid team basketball.”
As much as the addition of a 6-foot-9 shooter might have boosted the Pacers for the stretch run and beyond, integrating Granger at this late date could have proven more problematic than beneficial. In the five games he did play (more like three games because he logged just 10 and eight minutes in his final two appearances), Granger averaged 5.4 points and 1.8 rebounds. He played 19 minutes in each of his first three games.
“Now that question whether he’s going to get back or not is out of our minds,” David West said. “And we just have to go ahead with the guys we have.”
The Pacers have managed to fill Granger’s position nicely with budding All-Star Paul George, journeymen Gerald Green and Sam Young, and rookie Orlando Johnson. Lance Stephenson has emerged as a contributor as the starting shooting guard. Roles have long been established as has the Pacers’ hard-nosed identity as the league’s toughest defense.
With just nine games left after Thursday’s matchup with the Mavericks, the Pacers are focused on capturing the No. 2 seed. They’re hopeful of grinding their way to the East finals against the Heat, last season’s playoff ouster who Indiana actually rooted for to extend their streak to 28 at Chicago.
Indiana won the regular-season series with Miami, 2-1, taking two home games by an average margin of 11.5 points and holding the Heat to 77 and 89 points. With or without Granger, they believe they possess the team defense, interior size and scoring to make the Heat sweat.
“Succeeding in this league is about confidence, and it’s not like we just lost Danny and we have to go out and establish a belief in ourselves,” Vogel said. “We have a great deal of belief in ourselves, in who we’ve become this year without Danny. Obviously, we had hopes to bring him back, but we have a great deal of confidence.”
Vogel said he spoke to Granger Thursday prior to him leaving the team to return to Indianapolis and meet with doctors.
“He’s at peace with [the decision for surgery]. He knows that it’s the best decision,” Vogel said. “He’s disappointed, but you’ve got to make the best decision and we feel like we did.”
The best news to come Thursday for the Pacers was the return of West, Indiana’s second-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder (just a tick below George in both categories) from a six-game absence with a balky back.
West has made tremendous strides this season, returning to the form prior to his ACL injury that made him a two-time All-Star with the New Orleans Hornets. He’s averaging 17.3 ppg, up from 12.8 last season, on nearly 50 percent shooting, and 7.7 rpg, up from 6.6 last season.
“I don’t think you could give him enough credit for what he’s done with our team and our culture,” Vogel said of the 10-year veteran West. “He’s the lion in the locker room, he’s the heart and soul and he gives us the swagger of knowing we’re playing with one of the best in the game at the power forward position.”
What had been Granger’s team is now in West’s hands. A physical, defensive force and offensive go-to-guy in the clutch, West becomes a free agent this summer, while Granger returns for the final year of his deal.
But on Thursday, with Granger’s official departure and West’s return, all the uncertainty has ceased except for this: Just how far can these Pacers can go?
Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.
The one recap to watch: If you’ve been overly captivated by the Heat’s 23-game win streak, we can’t say we blame you. It certainly has been the NBA story of note the last few weeks. But if you’re missing out on what Denver is doing out West (and who they’re doing it to) with their 13-game win streak, well, you’re missing out. Last night’s game against the Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena (where OKC had won 20 straight vs. West foes) was something to behold. From Andre Miller‘s steady hand down the stretch to the rebounding and defensive prowess of Shootaround fave Kenneth Faried to the overall poise coach George Karl’s crew showed in the fourth quarter of a close game, this was a prime example of why the Nuggets are working their way into the West contender conversation.
Miller’s words, play keep Nuggets rolling — With a 12-game win streak in two (the last win coming offa particularly nail-biting affair in Chicago), Denver headed to Oklahoma City last night no doubt weary and aware of the Thunder’s 20-game win streak against West foes. The stage was set, then, for the Nuggets to either rise to the challenge and win, thus setting a new team mark for consecutive NBA wins, or fold under the pressure of weariness and a tough environment and fall apart. Jonathan Hochman of the Denver Post says some words from veteran Andre Miller helped keep the Nuggets on track:
Dick Vitale whispers louder than Andre Miller screams.
But in the pregame locker room, the Nuggets’ veteran guard delivered a powerful, passionate speech, channeling the oration of, say, Jesse Jackson, who just happened to be at Tuesday night’s Nuggets-Thunder game.
“One amazing speech — guys were just amped up, ready to play,” Denver forward Kenneth Faried said after the Nuggets’ 114-104 win, Denver’s 13th consecutive, a franchise-NBA record. “He said it doesn’t matter that we’re coming off a back-to-back, it doesn’t matter that we went to overtime — we’re going to play this game hard and with pride. We don’t have any excuses. Andre Miller is a guy who doesn’t really say much, but when he talks, everybody listens, nobody’s playing around.
“Everybody locks in.”
And sure enough, it was Miller who was locked in the most when it mattered. In just nine fourth-quarter minutes, he scored 13 points with six rebounds and three steals. Unreal. And he made two tough shots late. The second, a leaner in the lane with 1:29 left, gave Denver (47-22) a 10-point lead.
Oh, and Miller, who played childhood ball with Bill Russell, celebrated a birthday Tuesday. The 37-year-old was up to his old old-school tricks, making nifty passes and keeping the Thunder players on their toes. Back in Denver, they must be going nuts at the YMCA.
“Incredible,” Nuggets coach George Karl said of Miller, who finished with 20 points, seven rebounds and nine assists in 23 minutes. “If he plays 10 more minutes, he’d get a triple-double. He’s a coach, a teacher, a veteran and he does it every day in a classy way, a very quiet way. And then he can do what he did tonight – take the most talented team maybe in the NBA and be the best player on the court for the last six minutes of the game.”
Hill sorry for skewering Pacers fans — Pacers point guard and Indiana native George Hill grew up at a time when the Reggie Miller-era teams made the old Market Square Arena and the Pacers’ current home, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, one of the more intimidating places to play in the league. Since the Pacers’ revival as a contender two seasons ago, though, Indiana has ranked 22nd (this season) and 29th (last season) in total attendance. A loss last week to the Lakers brought out much of Hill’s ire against the hometown fans, who were seemingly outnumbered during the L.A. game and, as the numbers show, haven’t been turning out as much as Hill and his teammates would like. After a few days since his outburst, though, Hill is sorry for calling Pacers fans to the carpet and explained his position to Phillip B. Wilsonof The Indianapolis Star:
George Hill says he meant no disrespect to fans.
He just insists more Indiana Pacers fans should be in the stands at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. And he’s not going to budge on that point.
In his first home game since making critical remarks about seeing too many Los Angeles Lakers fans at the Pacers’ venue, Hill received the usual round of applause when the starting lineup was announced Tuesday night.
“I’m not saying you can’t be somebody’s fan,” said Hill, an Indianapolis native who went to Broad Ripple High School and IUPUI. “I was a Michael Jordan fan growing up, but when I did go to the games, I always rooted for my hometown team.
“You root for who you want to root for, but I know one day that we’re going to get it like it used to be at Market Square Arena. That’s my dream, that’s my goal from when I first got here, to help bring fans back. That’s all I’m trying to do.”
The Pacers enjoyed a loud home-court advantage at Market Square Arena, the team’s home from 1974-99.
Hill suggested Friday’s Lakers game had a 70-30 percent split in favor of the team wearing purple. Because his comments came after a 99-93 loss, some fans thought it unfair and rather untimely to vent.
“I love Indiana. I love everybody here in the community. That’s why I do so much in the community,” said Hill, who had 14 points and seven rebounds in the Pacers’ 95-73 victory over Orlando on Tuesday. “If anyone thought that I was trying to be disrespectful and tell them what to do with their money, I wasn’t. I’m sorry if that’s what you thought.
“I’m just trying to do what’s best for this organization and my teammates and show everybody this is a good basketball team. We’re going to need this city behind us to make a good run. We’re a basketball town and that’s how it should be.”
Howard ends partnership with longtime manager — From the time he was drafted by the Magic with the No. 1 overall pick in 2004 to his Dwightmare of last season that eventually put him in Los Angeles, Dwight Howard has worked side by side with his manager, Kevin Samples. But after nine years of Samples, Howard decided to ditch him and, as Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register notes, the change in Howard’s on-and off-court personality has been noticeable:
Howard is growing all on his own, single-mindedly focused on who he wants to be, and he has taken another major step forward in his career by leaving the business manager who has been Howard’s primary advisor his entire career, Kevin Samples.
“We had nine great years together,” Howard told me late Monday night. “Just time to go separate ways.”
For all the intangible growth Howard has discovered recently, breaking away from Samples is a concrete gesture that the past is the past – and Howard is confident in calling his own shots in the future.
“I know what I want to accomplish,” Howard said. “I’ve always written down my goals and everything I want, and I want to make sure I get ‘em. Everything I’ve lost, everything that’s gone away, I’m going to get it back.”
Samples came to Los Angeles with Howard after the trade to the Lakers, and it was hard to envision him not being around considering they’re actually first cousins – and Howard’s parents dispatched Samples to live with Howard in Orlando right after the 2004 NBA draft as a big brother/guidance counselor/business manager.
Their relationship grew into Dwight Howard Enterprises, which had two and only two officers: Howard and Samples.
For Howard to sever the tie is no small statement.
“He’s still my cousin, my family, so we’ll always be around each other,” Howard said. “But we just parted ways on the business side.”
What has changed is Howard can reflect on what went awry in Orlando with a healthy perspective now: He wanted to leave the Magic organization, but not really the people and the community that had become so connected to him. He needed to venture out to grow and deep-down he knew it – but he was a little scared to try something that big and new.
Howard was a little scared as he started out with the Lakers, too – unsure about his body after back surgery and lacking his usual freakish physical dominance. Even as Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak was behind the scenes reclaiming his spot on the All-Virtue team for patience, frustration grew from teammates and coaches over Howard not more aggressively testing the limits of what he could give the Lakers.
Howard maintains that it was mostly his lack of physical fitness that stopped him, but maybe he looked chicken because nothing was egging him on.
Howard’s major breakthrough was in attitude.
No more whining about touches in the post – replaced by a total commitment to defending and rebounding, plus creating devastating pick-and-roll ball with two legendary ball-handlers Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash.
No more excuses about his body – which Howard still managed to bring in at a career-low 5.8 percent body fat to start the season and drop down further to 5.0. No more needing time to wait and hope for less pain from the torn labrum in his right shoulder. Instead, a commitment to cutting sugar out of his diet for two months and pushing his conditioning to the point that it meant even humbly asking out of a game.
Rather than spouting clichés about the Lakers needing to do the right things to start winning, Howard simply started doing those things that he knows are right.
Clips not confident on defense — Before the All-Star break, the Clippers were 39-17 and had just come off a sound 125-101 thumping of the rival Lakers. All seemed right in the Clippers’ world, but since the All-Star break, L.A. has slowed. It is 7-5 and had lost to the Spurs, Grizzlies, Thunder and Nuggets — all somewhat acceptable losses given that each team is at least a playoff squad out West. Last night’s 116-101 loss to the Kings in Sacramento, though, raised some concerns for point guard Chris Paul, who tells the Los Angeles’ Times Broderick Turner that the Clips are more than struggling on defense of late:
This was perhaps the worst loss of the season for the Clippers, and it could hardly have come at a worse time.
A 116-101 loss to the Sacramento Kings in which they were outscored 38-18 in the fourth quarter Tuesday night sent the Clippers tumbling in the standings.
They began the night at Sleep Train Arena as the third-seeded team in the Western Conference, but they left in fourth place, percentage points behind Memphis (45-21).
The Kings’ fourth-quarter surge exposed the Clippers’ dismal three-point defense, a recurring problem. Sacramento made four consecutive three-pointers in a 1-minute 45-second stretch, turning a two-point edge into a 110-98 lead that spelled the end for the Clippers.
The Kings shot 50% (14 for 28) from behind the three-point line.
“It seems like every night teams shoot lights-out from the three on us,” Paul said.
The Clippers also lacked composure down the stretch.
Lamar Odom was assessed a technical foul with 7:55 left and the score tied, 86-86. Barnes swore at fans in the stands. Paul yelled at DeMarcus Cousins while the Kings center was shooting free throws.
“We’ve got to get better defensively,” Paul said “I think that’s the biggest key. Last year we had something about us where we could just get stops when we needed to. And right now, I don’t think we have the confidence that we need defensively.”
Breaking down Memphis’ new offense — From coach Lionel Hollins to our own Sekou Smith right here on the Hang Time blog to various others around the NBA blogosphere, the Grizzlies’ decision to trade Rudy Gay wasn’t met with universal praise. Memphis struggled after trading the athletic swingman, but has picked things up in the interim and is 16-6 overall since Gay was dealt to Toronto. Dan Devine over at Yahoo! Sports’ Ball Don’t Lie blog has a great in-depth post breaking down how the Grizzlies have thrived a bit since Gay was dealt:
There have been plenty of positive things about the Memphis Grizzlies’ surge since trading starting small forward Rudy Gay as part of a three-team deal that was lambasted in some quarters and lauded in others, with the team’s 16-6 mark since the move, of course, topping the list. One of the neatest from a basketball nerd perspective, though, is the increased amount of attention, both in the Grizzlies’ attack and in subsequent analysis of it, that has been going to the work done by Marc Gasol.
Gasol ranks at the top of the league in “elbow touches,” according to optical tracking data compiled by STATS through their SportVU system, whichI’vewrittenaboutbefore. (That’s the high-tech system where six special high-definition video cameras are installed above an arena’s basketball court at different angles to track, capture, record and store information on the location and movement of all 10 players, all three referees and the ball 25 times per second, every second, for an entire NBA game. Right now, 15 of 30 NBA teams have the cameras installed; more are sure to follow.)
Before the Gay trade, the Grizzlies ranked 22st among 30 NBA teams in offensive efficiency, a stat that measures how many points your offense scores per 100 possessions; Memphis was averaging 100.1 points-per-100, according to NBA.com’s stat tool. In 21 games since adding Tayshaun Prince, Ed Davis and Austin Daye to the lineup following the trade, they’ve moved up to 13th in the league at 104-per-100; over the course of the full season, that would rank just above the Brooklyn Nets as the NBA’s 10th-best offense. That’s a pretty significant improvement — over the course of the full season, four points-per-100 is the difference between the Nets’ No. 10 offense and the Chicago Bulls’ 25th-ranked unit.
ICYMI of the night: Nothing like a nice circus-type layup on a slow Wednesday morning. Thanks, Paul George …:
Danny Granger grew up in a modest-sized household – parents, an older sister, a younger brother – in a rough patch down in Metairie, La., outside New Orleans. But Danny Granger, Sr. came from a big crew, nine brothers and sisters. His son, the Indiana Pacers’ forward, has “about 30 cousins.” And when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, a whole bunch of them left devastated homes to move into the NBA rookie’s home up in Indianapolis.
So Granger knows a thing or two about fitting in. Despite his status as the family’s most famous member – beyond several square blocks of Metairie, anyway, where Danny Sr.’s tough-love reputation still resonates – Granger gets it that it isn’t always about him. Which should serve him well now.
The Pacers are in full sprint, nearly three-quarters of the way through the 2012-13 schedule. Having won 10 of their last 12 heading into Thursday night’s home game against the Los Angeles Clippers (7 ET, League Pass), with a 24-5 record at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, they are gaining on the Eastern Conference. They’ve got a breakthrough All-Star in Paul George, a starting lineup second to none, a brash coach in Frank Vogel daring them along and no fear of the Miami Heat, based on the teams’ six-game conference semifinals series last May and a 2-0 mark head-to-head this season.
Enter Granger, the Pacers’ five-time leading scorer and one of their leaders, period, over his first seven seasons in the league. That took a little time – Granger arrived just as Reggie Miller was exiting – but he became Indiana’s shot-taker and shot-maker, the closest thing they had to a go-to guy and a voice among them on and off the floor.
This is going to take time, too. Granger is back after essentially nine months away from the game, at least by NBA standards. Until the weekend in Detroit, he hadn’t played since that Heat series, hobbled by patellar tendinitis in his left knee.
In two games, Granger has been shackled by a minutes limit (20 per game) and hampered by adjustments to the pace, the flow, various tweaks in Indiana’s game in his absence and, of course, rust. “There’s a lot of rust, too,” he said with a slight laugh in a telephone interview Wednesday.
In Indianapolis terms, Granger is just now rolling from the garage onto the Brickyard, about 150 fast, frenzied laps into the race. He’s thinking, “Gentleman, start your engine!” and rolling under a yellow flag while his teammates and their opponents already are rushing toward the checkered one.
Things, as you would expect, are a little out of sync.
“I’m about maybe 60-65 percent of where I need to be,” Granger said. “Part of my rehab process was going to be practicing, and we don’t really practice at this stage of the season. The issue I’m still dealing with, with my knee, is my tendon has to adjust to new stresses. But we don’t really have ‘practices’ now, so we have to do it in games. This is literally my rehab.” (more…)
Maybe the Indiana Pacers thrived this week where other NBA teams might not have survived by playing mental tricks with themselves: They weren’t playing three games in three nights, really – they were just playing a couple of back-to-back’s all squished together.
Maybe the Pacers beat the Bulls, the Hawks and the 76ers in rapid succession Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday – three victories in fewer hours than any other team in the league this season – because of the motivation they drew from persecution and paranoia. Let Indiana deal with three in a row. Who’ll notice? So the Pacers played 144 minutes while balancing chips on their shoulders and turned perceived disrespect into something distinctive.
Or maybe the Pacers simply met the latest challenge thrown at them, grew in the process and will be better off for it going forward. Sounded a little like that, from guard George Hill’spostgame comments in Philly.
“I don’t think anyone expected us to go 3-0 when this thing was put in place” Hill said. “We knew we could do the unthinkable and get the job done. We had the confidence to do it. I just think we wanted it more.”
Well, not exactly, since no one else in the NBA has faced or will face three in three nights this season. That bit of post-lockout nostalgia was dropped on the Pacers after their home game against Chicago Dec. 26 was postponed by a snowstorm (both teams were present for that night’s game but Indiana’s front office was worried about fans traveling to/from Bankers Life Fieldhouse, and the league agreed).
The Pacers felt there were enough other seams in their and the Bulls’ schedules that the NBA need not have stuck the make-up game immediately in front of the home-road couplet against Atlanta and Philadelphia. The coaches and players, however, didn’t get a vote. So the former tried to downplay it, lest it loom large as an ordeal. The latter felt a little sorry for themselves but mostly got busy.
The result? Three victories in about 50 hours and a season-best five-game winning streak. Two at the Fieldhouse to run their home record to 20-3, then a roadie that gets them back to Indy for nine of their next 11 games.
Indiana won each game by 10 or more points. It shot 52.7 percent against Chicago, scored a season-high 114 points on Atlanta and (while shooting a rubber-legged 39 percent) held Philadelphia to just 69 points. No Joakim Noah or Derrick Rose, no Lou Williams or Zaza Pachulia and Thaddeus Young or Andrew Bynum? Well, no one was feeling sorry for the Pacers either.
Paul George played nearly 124 minutes in the three games, amassing 65 points, 21 rebounds and 16 assists, and both David West and Hill cracked the 100-minute mark.
Obviously, the Pacers wouldn’t have chosen to put themselves through this relative ordeal. But coach Frank Vogel deserves credit for treating it merely as a freakish back-to-back – with two tails – and bonus points for using a clip from the 1989 movie “Major League” to motivate his squad.
That’s way better that than slicing-and-dicing “Hoosiers” for the zillionth time in a basketball locker room. (It’s not clear if he used this clip, since NBA schedule-meister Matt Winick or commish David Stern would not have made for attractive cardboard cutouts.)
Now that they’re through with it, the Pacers can draw inspiration from having stuck their landing. Things are looking up, with George’s breakout as an East All-Star and forward Danny Granger’s imminent return from a season-long knee injury. After this, the players will have a reservoir of confidence to draw from when they feel picked on or disrespected. Like, for instance, when some playoff whistles stack up in Miami’s or Chicago’s favor.
“I guess we have to earn respect,” Hill told the Indianapolis Star. “We’re fine with that. We’re used to being the underdog. Playing that way gives us motivation and a chip on our shoulder. It also forces people to rethink what they do to us.”
No one ever told Frank Vogel this NBA head coaching stuff would be easy. But he could have been forgiven had he started to think that way, given the arc of his first 22 months on the job.
Vogel landed the job on Jan. 30, 2011 when he took over for fired Jim O’Brien. He steered a team that had played 10 games under .500 to a 20-18 finish and a playoff berth, and that – coupled with the Pacers’ feistiness in their first-round series against Chicago – shook the “interim” tag loose from in front of his title.
Last season, Indiana won 16 of its first 22 games, chased the Bulls in the Central Division with a 42-24 mark and put a scare into the eventual champs from Miami by grabbing a 2-1 lead and homecourt advantage in the second round.
Everything seemed to be onward and upward again this season after the Pacers re-signed free agent center Roy Hibbert, committed to George Hill as starting point guard, brought back talent czar Donnie Walsh and added pieces they valued such as D.J. Augustin, Ian Mahinmi and Gerald Green.
What has followed, though, has been the first hiccup of the Vogel era. Indiana sputtered to a 3-6 start. At the season’s quarter pole, things have perked up somewhat, but 10-10 still is well below expectations. The Pacers hardly have seized control of the weak NBA Central.
“We’re trying to get a feel,” forward David West said the other night on a stop in Chicago. “We’re trying to pick up wins and put together complete games. We’re just going through the everyday ups-and-downs of the NBA season. Y’know we believe in what we have.”
The defense has been strong – Indiana ranks first in defensive field-goal percentage (40.9) and second in defensive rating (99.6) – but then, it has needed to be considering the Pacers’ offense. They are shooting just 41.5 percent with an offensive rating of 99.1 (both stats rank 28th). They’re not getting to the foul line much and turnovers have been a problem.
Yes, Indiana misses forward Danny Granger, its most potent scorer who is in the midst of a three-month layoff (left knee injury). And it has played 12 road games already, seven of its setbacks coming away from Indy.
But it’s been more than that. Augustin – averaging just 3.2 points and 2.4 assists – has been low impact, generating low confidence from Vogel or teammates and not nearly the dream backup imagined when the club jettisoned Darren Collison. The whole bench has been disappointing, as in the 92-89 loss to Denver Friday. The Pacers subs managed just 12 points, eight rebounds and three assists in nearly 71 combined minutes.
Tyler Hansbrough‘s scoring is down, beyond his dip in minutes. Ditto for Green, sputtering to play within Vogel’s system in ways he didn’t last season in his NBA return with the Nets. Mahinmi has been fine in relief of Hibbert, but Pacers fans bemoan the loss not just of Collison but of A.J. Price, with some lobbying for rookie Ben Hansbrough to get a shot at Augustin’s role.
Among the starters, West has been close to his former All-Star form, but Hibbert, Paul George and Lance Stephenson have been inconsistent.
Then there is Vogel, who has kept a calm about him but hasn’t been shy about changing up plenty during these doldrums. Defensively, he doesn’t ask Hibbert to show as much on pick and rolls, content to keep him as a paint factor. The Pacers have tried to pick up their pace, too, and to get away from iso plays for Hibbert, West or others; with Granger and his shooting out, defenses are more effective sagging or digging in such situations.
“Dramatic shift in philosophy,” Vogel called it. “A work in progress.”
The key for the Pacers is to keep seeing progress while, in themselves or in their head coach, not seeing too much stress. The education continues Sunday in Oklahoma City.
DALLAS — The Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday face old pal Jason Kidd and the New York Knicks for the second time in less than two weeks. In the time between, the drastic decline witnessed at point guard must be unnerving for Dallas.
The promising start Darren Collison rode into the Big Apple on Nov. 9 is swerving amid a mess of poor decision making, poor shooting and perplexing turnovers. After Monday’s 105-101 overtime home loss to the Golden State Warriors in which Collison was terrible offensively (seven points on 2-for-11 shooting, five assists and five turnovers) and torched defensively by Stephen Curry (31 points, nine assists), his quickest move was exiting the locker room before the media was granted entrance for post game interviews.
Mavs coach Rick Carlisle addressed his point guard’s spotty play by saying he must help Collison snap out of it.
“Right now, he’s our starting point guard,” Carlisle said. “I know he can play better. I know he’s frustrated with how things are going. Right now, I’ve just got to help him get better. When players struggle, it’s on the coach. I don’t dodge that responsibility.”
Even if Carlisle wanted to make a switch, he has no realistic option. Dallas waived the disgruntled Delonte West before the start of the season. Roddy Beaubois continues to be disappointingly ineffective and third-year guard Dominique Jones, while flashing potential in his recently increased role, is reckless handling the basketball and unreliable shooting it.
This isn’t to suggest the Mavs would be better off with Kidd, who is off to a strong start with the Knicks in his 19th season. Dallas wanted the 39 year old back, but he spurned its offer to join New York, the right move for him and the Mavs, regardless if Collison ultimately becomes Dallas’ long-term (not to mention the short-term) solution or not.
The Mavs were 4-1 when they headed to Madison Square Garden and gamely competed against the then-undefeated Knicks before falling late. The loss started this current 2-5 stretch that has Dallas, still without star Dirk Nowitzki, at .500 (6-6) and backed into a corner with the revenge-minded Los Angeles Lakers following the Knicks into town Saturday night.
It was in L.A. on opening night that the speedy Collison carved up Steve Nash and Dallas’ new cast surprisingly revved up an uncertain offense. In the first five games, Collison averaged 16.2 points on highly efficient shooting at close range, and 7.2 assists, while committing just six total turnovers.
In the last seven games, he’s averaged 11.2 points and 5.9 assists with 21 turnovers. In just the last four games, he’s shooting 30.8 percent while averaging 10.0 points, 5.5 assists and 3.3 turnovers.
At the other end, it’s been a scorched trail of point-guard destruction: Kemba Walker, Luke Ridnour, former Pacers teammate George Hill, Kyrie Irving and finally Curry’s explosion for a season high in points and assists. The Mavs have yet to see All-Star point guards the likes of Chris Paul, Tony Parker and Russell Westbrook.
“Stephen Curry just didn’t outplay one player,” Mavs shooting guard O.J. Mayo said. “He outplayed the Dallas Mavericks.”
Maybe so, but Collison was on the floor for 38 of Curry’s 43 minutes and served as his primary defender. Offensively, Collison was ineffective, at best. He did hit the game-tying jumper with 36 seconds to play to force overtime after Curry’s fourth-quarter blitz, but even that was a broken play in which he failed to get the ball into center Chris Kaman on a mismatch.
If not for Mayo’s late scoring takeover — hero ball, as they like to say nowadays, at its essence — the Mavs might not have even reached overtime. Mayo had 18 of his team-high 27 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, and accounted for all 11 of Dallas’ points in OT on just one assist.
“I had the opportunity to have the ball in my hands,” Mayo said. “I didn’t have to depend on someone creating a shot for me.”
Not exactly a ringing endorsement for your point guard. And that’s a problem.
Few in the executive offices around the NBA command more respect than Donnie Walsh. Likewise, few GMs from generation-next created more buzz than Kevin Pritchard, both when he got hired and unceremoniously dumped in Portland.
But trusting in the wisdom of the men making the deals isn’t the same thing as trusting one’s own eyes when assessing personnel moves. That’s why the Indiana Pacers’ latest maneuvers triggered so much head-scratching among the team’s fans and here at Sekou’s Hang Time hideout.
Darren Collison, a legitimate starting point guard but one who finished last season coming off the Pacers bench, is gone. So is wing defender Dahntay Jones, reserve scorer Leandro Barbosa and off-the-bench big Louis Amundson. They’ve been replaced by D.J. Augustin, Gerald Green, Ian Mahinmi and rookie center Miles Plumlee – well, replaced might not be the best word, so let’s say their roster spots have been taken by those newcomers.
Doesn’t seem like much, as judged here at HTH. Not even a push, never mind an upgrade to the Pacers’ roster. And that’s what Indiana was hoping for, wasn’t it, a surgical move or two to vault it into close-second status in the Eastern Conference this season behind the Miami Heat?
Beat-writer extraordinaire Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star tried to explain the movesto a fan base growing increasingly restless:
Fans don’t like what they’ve seen so far. Some already want Walsh to retire and Pritchard to go somewhere else.
Have the moves been flashy? Not even close.
Are the moves good enough to catch Miami in the Eastern Conference? Not as long as the Heat have LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
But it’s all about progression for the Pacers.
They had no choice but to trade point guard Darren Collison…
Wells then explains that Collison, though he said he would be willing to continue as George Hill’s backup, really wasn’t happy in that role. Well, that shouldn’t have bothered the Pacers one bit – would they prefer a backup who doesn’t burn to start? Even then, Collison figured to have trade value in excess of Mahinmi – that deal withDallasseemed to gift the point guard and Jones to the Mavericks. Augustin doesn’t have nearly the juice, and can leave next summer as a free agent anyway.
Moving out some of the other players while trusting the latest mature version of Green, compared to all his previous incarnations, might not be the most sound decision either.
There’s a tendency to rely on Walsh and Pritchard, based on the basketball bank accounts both have amassed in their careers. But for a team that had the Heat down 2-1 in their best-of-seven East semifinals, for a club that was thinking about an Eric Gordon signing as this offseason’s signature move – as well as retaining center Roy Hibbert and point guard George Hill – the Pacers’ approach of one step forward, maybe two back, is hard to embrace.
HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – We’ve known for more than a week that restricted free agent center Roy Hibbert would receive a max offer sheet worth $58 million over four years with the Portland Trail Blazers.
Usually, when an All-Star restricted free agent gets an outside offer, his team quickly makes it known (off the record) whether or not it will match. But the Pacers have remained pretty silent over the last week in regard to Hibbert. So the idea of Indy losing a major piece and the Eastern Conference playoff picture receiving a shake-up has been lingering.
Hibbert can’t officially sign the Blazers’ offer sheet until 9 p.m. PT on Tuesday, but Indianapolis Star reporter Mike Wellstweeted earlier this afternoon that the center was already in Portland.
Not long after that though, Wells came with the news that the Pacers would match Hibbert’s offer sheet.
So that’s that. And though the front office has undergone some changes in Indy, the core on the floor will remain the same. The team came to an agreement with free agent George Hill on a new five-year deal last week.
Pencil the Pacers in for another top-four seed in the East in 2013.
Free agent center Roy Hibbert is now leaning toward wanting to play with the Portland Trail Blazers next season, a day after the restricted free agent got a verbal commitment from the Blazers that they would tender a four-year, $58 million offer sheet to him, the maximum he can receive under terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, league sources confirmed Sunday.
Hibbert, acquired by the Indiana Pacers (from the Toronto Raptors) on Draft day in 2008, had long expressed his desire to remain with the team that traded for him and helped him develop into an All-Star last season. But the 25-year-old was apparently blown away by the presentation made Saturday in Washington, D.C., by the Blazers’ contingent, which included Portland’s new general manager, Neil Olshey.
The Pacers would still be able to match any offer for Hibbbert when the July moratorium expires, but teams generally work out deals for players who express a specific desire to be elsewhere once they become free agents.
The Pacers are still likely to match the offer, because Hibbert has become one of the league’s top centers and his skills as a passing big man are a rare commodity in the NBA these days. But a source indicated Sunday that the organization would have to take a look at the offer before making a definitive commitment.