The Indiana Pacers returned home last week to notch two more wins following the brutal West Coast road trip. Indiana still sits atop the NBA with a 20-3 record (currently tied with Portland).
The Pacers managed to extend their lead in the East this past week to three games with a win over the Miami Heat.
How the Pacers managed to take the Heat’s best shot last week and rally to win the game is nearly beyond me. It was their most impressive game of the season. Miami had them dead to rights in the first half but the Pacers were utterly dominant in the second.
The most telling stat of the game? LeBron James was 6-for-16 from the field for just 17 points. He also turned the ball over five times. Roy Hibbert denied him the rim and Paul George locked him down from range. The Heat’s offense relies far too much on their ability to hit three pointers (especially since they can’t match the Pacers in the post) and when those shots aren’t falling, their team looks awfully vulnerable.
The Pacers held Miami to 19 points below its season average. Indiana has the ability to switch into a lock-down, high energy defensive mode that can stifle any offense in the league. That’s what happened in the third quarter of this game (and many others).
At this point, are fans even worried about a deficit at halftime? Something that no one has seemed to mention is the talent of Frank Vogel and his coaching staff. The adjustments that this team makes at halftime are unparalleled. Every third quarter from the Pacers results in dominance. Every flaw of their opponent is exposed, every weakness the Pacers have shown is covered, and the team comes out with renewed energy and focus.
If Brad Stevens doesn’t win Coach of the Year in Boston, then Vogel certainly deserves the award.
Also, the Pacers defeated the Bobcats this week in front of a sellout crowd. That’s right, they sold out a game against a team that was 21-61 last season, although IU-alum Cody Zeller might have helped.
Dec. 16th – Indiana vs Detroit, 7pm
The Pistons are 11-14, and 10 games behind the Pacers for control of the Central Division. The Pistons are coming off a tough overtime loss last night against the Blazers. The first meeting between the two ended with the Pacers winning 99-91. It also featured a second quarter where Indiana scored just nine points (and rebounded with a 36 points third). The Pacers were also without George Hill, but CJ Watson filled in nicely in his absence.
This time, the Pacers will be at full strength and on their home court. Detroit has a very solid front court that leads the league in scoring inside the paint. David West and Hibbert will have their hands full.
This should be a double digit win for Indiana. Fans love to come out and boo the Pistons for that incident in 2004. The Pacers will run away with this one in the second half (even though its a classic trap game…).
Dec. 18th – Indiana at Miami, 7pm ESPN/WatchESPN
According to everyone in the media, including ESPN pundits, last weeks win over the Heat was not a statement game. That is something I agree with. It’s very hard to make a statement on your home court in December. So why is ESPN now using the tagline “Championships are won in June, Statements are made in December.”
Is this a statement game or not? A week ago this matchup couldn’t be a statement game because it was too early in the season. So did we just need another week of basketball then? How’s this for a statement: the Pacers went 3-2 against the top five teams in the NBA in the past two weeks.
Win or lose, this game will be overblown by ESPN (and a lot of other people). If the Heat win, its all sorts of love and adulation for James and the role players (and a healthy dose of “are the Pacers overrated?”). If the Pacers win, its a “what’s wrong with the Heat?” sort of narrative.
In all honesty, the Heat are lucky that the East is so terrible this season. Top to bottom, the Pacers have a better team. But Miami has the best player since Michael Jordan.
Right now, I think this game is a toss up, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the Heat play with a greater sense of urgency this time and pull off a convincing win.
Dec. 20th – Indiana vs Houston, 8pm ESPN/WatchESPN
The Rockets are currently the fifth best team in the West with a 16-9 record. They lost badly to Sacramento Sunday and will host Chicago Wednesday before traveling to Indiana. The biggest issue for this team, at least in the near future, will be the health of James Harden’s ankle. He suffered the injury against the Kings and is day-to-day. Adding to their injury woes is Jeremy Lin taking time off due to back spasms.
The Rockets are one of the best scoring teams in the NBA, averaging 107 points per game (2nd best in the league). But they’re not nearly as good on defense, giving up 102.2 each night.
The team also has some interesting ties with Indiana as former IU coach of infamy Kelvin Sampson is the acting head coach for the Rockets. Sampson is famous for calling recruits far too much (an NCAA violation at the time) and leading the basketball program to near ruin.
If Harden is out on Friday, the Pacers will likely win with ease. Hopefully he plays just so we can watch George and the Beard face each other. Either way, I like the Pacers in this one.
Dec. 22nd – Indiana vs Boston, 6pm
The Celtics are currently in control of the Atlantic Division despite an 11-14 record. They face Minnesota, Detroit, and Washington all at home before traveling to Indiana on Sunday.
While this team struggles on many levels, defense isn’t one of them. They rank 5th in the NBA in points per game, holding opponents to 95.7. The problem is that they can only score about 94.8 per outing.
This will be the first time that Stevens will return to Indiana after leaving Butler. Some fans remain bitter, but its hard to fault a guy who always said he wanted to coach in the NBA. Its also hard to turn down a job offer from a franchise as storied as the Celtics.
The Pacers won 97-82 when the two teams first met at TD Garden. This matchup will likely be more one sided with home court advantage (although Steven’s has pulled off upsets at BLF before).
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