Let's get the boring stuff out of the way first. The Indiana Pacers held off the Brooklyn Nets, 97-96, to sweep the season series. Roy Hibbert and Paul George had 20 apiece, and David West made the big buckets (from the field and the line) to finish with 17, 7 and 7. Shaun Livingston was awesome for the Nets and scored 24, mostly by utilizing his great size for a guard.
With the Thunder losing to the Wizards, the Pacers regain the top record in the NBA (percentage-wise) at 36-10, though even the players are admitting that they are going through a bit of a tough stretch, a "grind," as they like to call it. The defense is not where it was earlier in the season, there are lot of careless turnovers, and guys just look a step slower out there and missing open shots they would ordinarily make. Paul George is shooting around 30% in his last few games, and Danny Granger is hitting a bit of a wall in his return. They were, whether they admit it or not, lucky to have beaten the Nets this time around.
The struggle is understandable over the course of a long season. Paul George said the team is just trying to grind it out until the All-Star break, though it's hard to imagine them getting much rest over the period with George, Hibbert and Vogel all appearing. It's going take some adjustment for the team to continue playing at a high level so they can grab that top seed but also pacing themselves so they can be relatively fresh and healthy for the playoffs.
Oh, yes, and you must know by now that Andrew Bynum is coming to town on a one year, $1 million contract. When he was released by the Bulls after the Luol Deng trade I had heard the Pacers were one of the suitors but always expected that he'd go off to a bigger market like Miami.
The signing has been met with mixed reactions. Some say he will help, others say he is a locker room cancer that will disrupt the Pacers' chemistry. I must admit I was initially undecided. Everyone will readily affirm that Bynum comes with a lot of baggage, both physically and emotionally. His knees are shot and he will never again be that All-Star center who averaged 18.7 points and 11.2 rebounds (numbers Roy can only dream of) in 2011-2012. But can he be potentially better than Ian Mahinmi? At both ends of the floor? Yeah, definitely. The upside is there.
As Frank Vogel said, Bynum is a perfect fit for the team because the Pacers play with size, and the Miami Heat can't handle size. At worst, Bynum is an insurance policy in case Hibbert or Mahinmi are out with injury (god forbid) or foul trouble. At best, he is a beast who will give opposing second units nightmares for the rest of the season. I love Roy and he is improving all the time, but let's face it -- his offensive game is too inconsistent and dependent on matchup opportunities. Unless he is on his game (and he usually only seems to be full ON against Miami), Roy always looks like he's just tossing the ball up there and hoping for the best.
Bynum, on the other hand, is a different animal, a guy who can use his size and great hands (something Mahinmi doesn't have) to change the game on the offensive end. And remember, anything he provides will be considered a bonus for a team that already has the league's best record. Bynum, Scola (or Mahinmi, if they want to focus on D), Granger, Stephenson (he plays a lot on the second unit) and CJ Watson is a pretty damn good bench squad.
As for the locker room cancer business, most people have already pointed out that David West won't allow any of that nonsense. Larry Bird said in an interview that when he met with Bynum he told him "how things are" around here, while Bynum himself said he just wanted to "fit in" and that it would be great to back up Roy. He knows this is his last chance to salvage his career and a very good opportunity to win a championship. As Vogel said, Bynum is coming in as another piece, another asset, not the "savior" of the team.
Interviews with other players, none of whom seem particularly excited, conveyed the same message -- get with the program or get out. If you come in with the right attitude and work hard, we'll embrace you with open arms. If not, we'll accept the experiment failed and kick you out.
The Pacers said they have not had Bynum checked out by team doctors or have him take a physical yet, but all accounts suggest that he is healthy and not out of shape. It has also been said that working hard is not a problem for him, contrary to some reports. Granted, he hasn't played for a month and is not in game shape, and it has been suggested that he probably won't play for weeks, so my assumption is that he will be on a similar schedule as Granger in that they will ease him into the rotation and have them both as ready as they can be by playoff time.
Miami has Greg Oden, who has supposedly shown "encouraging signs", but for me Bynum is a much bigger wild card with a proven track record. Larry Bird said the suggestion that the Pacers only signed Bynum to keep him away from the Heat was "one of the dumbest things" he has ever heard, and that I agree with. The Pacers signed Bynum because they think he can help. Whether the gamble will pay off is another question but I am now convinced that the Pacers made the right decision. For all the people raising concerns over how Bynum could negatively impact the Pacers, there are just as many people who would have freaked out had he joined the Heat instead. If he's so bad for your team, then why would you be scared if he went to your biggest rival? That sealed the deal for me.