The Indiana Pacers went through some highs and lows last week. The high was holding a team under 70 points. The low was an embarrassing performance in Atlanta.
The Pacers sit at 29-7, owning the best record in the NBA. They also have a 2.5 game lead over the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference. Indiana leads the Central Division by 11.5 games over the Bulls.
Indiana has been struggling a bit on offense over the past couple weeks. The defense is usually there (except when they travel to Atlanta) and it always keeps them in games. The Pacers have held 10 opponents to under 80 points this season, and there isn’t another team remotely close to that number.
What happened in Atlanta? Well, Roy Hibbert has his worst game of the season with just two points off 1-for-8 shooting. It was so bad that he was benched late in the game. Paul George was turned into a volume shooter. He had a double-double, but was just 11-for-25 from the field including 3-for-10 from the three-point line.
The biggest reason why the team lost? Lance Stephenson was out with a knee injury. It can’t be understated just how valuable he is to the team. Its not just the 13 points, nearly seven rebounds, and five assists he averages per game. He creates in so many ways with his ability to penetrate and kick out. There isn’t a better passer on the roster.
This loss also proved that having Danny Granger in the lineup at the same time as George doesn’t work. Those two, along with the other three starters, have produced the lowest offensive output of any Pacers lineup Frank Vogel has put on the court. The Pacers have also been outscored when Granger and George are on the floor at the same time with any lineup.
Part of this has to be familiarity and Granger still working to get his form back. He has worked hard to fit in with a Pacers squad that where he was once the go-to player. To his credit, Granger hasn’t complained about his minutes or getting the ball more often. In my opinion, Granger deserves a shot at a ring for sticking with the Pacers during the lottery years when the teams image was in the dumpster.
A few nights later, the Pacers rebounded to hold the Washington Wizards to just 66 points. The Wizards didn’t score more than 19 points in a quarter and couldn’t hit shots from anywhere on the court. They shot just 32-percent from the field and hit just 9-of-23 free throw attempts (39-percent).
David West took over this game, leading the team with 20 points. West may not show up big every night, but he gives the Pacers toughness and can take over a game when other players are having an off night.
George had another rough day shooting, connecting on just 2-of-14 shots for eight points, his lowest output of the season. He did manage to haul in 14 rebounds and six assists. George always manages to give the team something, even when his offense is struggling. He has been slumping lately and fans have to wonder when he is going to break out of his funk. Hopefully before another west coast road trip next week.
This game also saw CJ Watson finish with 16 points and a perfect 6-for-6 shooting night. He is such an improvement over DJ Augustine from last season it isn’t even funny. Having a backup point guard who can hit open jumpers and play defense consistently is huge for the Pacers.
A number of players have been struggling to find their shots recently. Thankfully, the competition hasn’t been that impressive. The schedule is going to get tougher soon, and Vogel needs to figure out some way to get the offense playing at a high level once again.