I could really get used to this. Playing their 5th game in 7 nights against their Western Conference doppelganger, the Memphis Grizzlies, the Indiana Pacers ended up having their easiest night of the season by cruising to a 95-79 victory, upping their league-leading undefeated record to 8-0.
The Pacers pretty much led the whole way after the 1st minute of the game and held a 7-point lead at the end of the first quarter and at the half, which spelled trouble for the Grizzlies considering the Pacers usually go up a gear or two from the third quarter. That was exactly what happened as the Pacers outscored the Grizzlies 26-16 in the third to take a 17-point lead into the final quarter and then increased the gap to 23 before both sides emptied their benches.
Lance Stephenson earned his first career triple-double -- and it really didn't look very hard either -- by racking up 13, 11 and 12 in 34 minutes of play. Paul George, the Eastern Conference Player of the Week, scored an effortless 23 points on 9-16 shooting to go with 7 rebounds, whikle George Hill had 13 and David West 10. Off the bench, Luis Scola was huge for the Pacers with 12 points and Ian Mahinmi had by far his best offensive game of the season by scoring 10 and hitting all 6 of his free throws. Even Chris Copeland hit his first triple of the season in garbage time. Just one of those nights where everything seemed to go right, including the officiating.
There's not much else you can say about this Pacers team at the moment. The defense is tenacious -- they've allowed opponents to shoot better than 40% for 2 straight games, but they're still winning -- and their offense is starting to click. The team still hasn't scored more than 100 points in a game this season but they've shot better than 45% the last 2 games and should get there way before giving up 100 points at the other end.
The most comforting thing, apart from watching players grow and accept their roles, is the team's mental toughness and resiliency. Unlike previous seasons, they have been less prone to fall into big holes or allow teams to come back from big leads, and in close games they have the tools and confidence to grind out victories. That alone is going to win the team an extra 10 games in a long season.
The streak will eventually end and the team will go through some tough stretches, mostly likely commencing with their 5-game West coast road trip at the start of next month, but Pacers fans can't ask for much more than what the team is giving them right now. The biggest question mark remains the status of Danny Granger. Coach Frank Vogel said Granger will commence practicing this week and will play "Orlando Johnson/Solomon Hill" minutes when he returns to the floor until his conditioning is back. I assume that could go on for several weeks given all the setbacks he's had, though with the way Stephenson and the team has been playing I don't think anyone is too concerned.
The key will still be how to integrate a former volume scorer back into the lineup without disrupting the seamless team chemistry. As Walter White once said, it would be best if Granger "tread carefully" because the last thing he would want is to be a liability on the team. Unlike a lot of other people, I don't care if Granger or Stephenson starts, and the reason is because if Granger ends up starting it will be because he earned it over Stephenson. And if he can earn it over Stephenson, who has been playing out of his mind so far, then surely that can only be a good thing for the team as a whole.