Looks like the Pacers aren't back on track, at least not yet.
In what was probably one of their more winnable games during this horrendous stretch, the Pacers dropped a close one to the Atlanta Hawks, 101-96, making it two straight defeats after a season-high six consecutive victories. The Pacers trailed for most of the game, and while it looked like they might have been able to produce something down the stretch, the Hawks answered every blow and put the game away at the line when Danny Granger missed a three that could have tied it.
Now the 23-14 Pacers go back to the drawing board to try and snap out of this funk they're currently in. It's not going to be easy in next few games though, as they go up next against the Heat in Miami and then the Magic in Orlando. So chances are we're going to have to wait until those two home games against Portland and then Philly to have a real chance of getting back in the winning column. If not, there's always the away-and-home series against the Jeremy Lin and the Knicks after that.
Things look kinda bleak right now, but with a surprising win the Pacers could turn things around in a hurry. I hope.
So the Pacers hung with the Bulls tonight...for 24 minutes. The second half was different, as Derrick Rose delivered on his promise to annihilate (well, he said he "won't forget it") the team that beat them on their home floor last time. The result? A 92-72 drubbing where the Pacers actually led by a point at the end of the first half. The loss dropped the Pacers to 23-13, snapping a season high 6-game winning streak.
I've said all along that the Bulls simply have an extra gear the Pacers don't, and they showed it again tonight. I guess it helps when you have the league's reigning MVP leading your squad and a bunch of hustlers that fight hard on every possession. The Pacers got their behinds handed to them because they couldn't grab any rebounds or get to any of the 50-50 balls. That and because they couldn't hit any shots in the second half under the stifling Bulls defense.
The two Georges, Paul George and George Hill, were the bright spots, scoring 21 and 17 respectively, but everyone else pretty much stunk. Roy Hibbert, in particular, was plagued by foul trouble all night and finished with 2 points on 1-6 shooting in 25 minutes. That's just one field goal in two games, Mr All Star.
The good thing about the condensed schedule is that the Pacers can bounce back tomorrow against the Atlanta Hawks back home. It's one of their more winnable games on this wild stretch, so let's hope they don't waste the opportunity. Otherwise we could be seeing a new season-long losing streak very soon.
More relieved than anything that the Pacers blew away the New Orleans Hornets, 102-84, to give Indiana it's sixth straight win (after losing five straight). The team now stands pretty at 23-12, third in the Eastern Conference!
But of course, don't expect win streak to continue for much longer, as they will soon kick off one of the most difficult parts of the season: @Chicago, Atlanta, @Miami, @Orlando, Portland, Philadelphia, @New York, New York, LA Clippers. It's hard to envisage a lot of wins during this stretch.
On the bright side, the Pacers are going in with some momentum on their side. But have they improved substantially since that five game losing streak? I'd like to think so, but the streak hasn't exactly come against top class opponents...actually, they've come against some of the worst teams in the league. The positive is that three of the five games were blowouts, something we didn't see a lot from this team before.
I know the team is supposed to have uupgraded its ball movement as of late, but it still stands at 27th in the league in assists per game. That's got to be a concern. Roy Hibbert didn't hit a field goal last game, and Danny Granger and David West both continue to be hot and cold. Collison is doing better but he has his limits, especially defensively, while Paul George still can't find that consistency he sorely needs.
The biggest plus for the Pacers is that George Hill is back and playing himself back into shape, while Hansbrough appears to have put that horrendous stretch behind him. I guess it's also good that AJ Price has been playing and Lance Stephenson hasn't.
Well, I guess we'll see what this team is made of over the next nine games. If they can get four wins I will consider it huge a success.
No last second heroics from George Hill this time. The Indiana Pacers returned from the All-Star break in form, pummeling the Golden State Warriors 102-78, in a game that wasn't even as close as the score suggested.
Good game for Granger, who had 25 points in just 30 minutes while taking just 18 shots, but it was an all round team effort. However, the Warriors looked like crap out there too, so it's not all Indiana.
One more easily winnable game against the Hornets (though it's never good to take them lightly) that will hopefully make it 6 in a row, before the Pacers head off to the most frightening stretch of the season: @Bulls, Hawks, @Heat, @Magic, Blazers, 76ers, @Knicks, Knicks, Clippers.
Jeez. I hope they can win at least a couple in that stretch. If they can go 4-4 I will be truly impressed.
Second year Indiana Pacers swingman Paul George just finished with 23 points in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge on All-Star Friday, second only to MVP Kyrie Irving.
The 10th pick of the 2010 draft, George has risen from raw talent to to one of the most promising young players in the NBA. Having grown 2 inches to 6'10" during the offseason, George also worked on his game to become more proficient from the three-point line and continues to be one of the smoothest finishers on the break. He may still need to work on his lazy passing and dribbling, but every commentator in the league only has positive things to say about PG's game.
So how far has PG's game come? Last season, George averaged 9.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.5 blocks and shot 0.446 from the field, 0.349 from three-pont range and 0.773 from the line. This season, apart from a slight dip in FG% to 0.436, PG has improved in every facet of his game and is currently averaging 12.1 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.4 steals and 0.7 blocks. He is now a 40% three-point shooter who has already hit more threes this season (55) than last (41). His numbers are not flashy and the jump in numbers is not astounding, but there's no denying his game has gotten better and he has the tools to get a lot better down the track. The only thing working against George is that the Pacers like to spread the ball and distribute the ponts evenly, but there's no reason George can't be the team's number one player in a few years.
If the 2010 draft were to take place now, where would PG place? Looking at the list of players selected, the only players I would select over George are John Wall (1st pick) and probably Greg Monroe (7th)...and maybe DeMarcus Cousins...but because he's such a knucklehead it's hard to say whether most NBA GMs would take the risk. That would make PG the 3rd or 4th pick.
ESPN recently listed its Most Improved Player rankings at the mid-point of the season. Number one is of course Jeremy Lin. Number two is Ryan Anderson from Orlando and number three is Kyle Lowry from the Rockets. George is ranked number four, even though his numbers don't jump out at you.
Another indication of his advancement is the draft order of the Rising Stars Challenge. Shaq had the first pick and Charles Barkley the second. PG was selected 6th overall behind Blake Griffin, Kyrie Irving, Jeremy Lin, DeMarcus Cousins and Ricky Rubio. Now, Griffin and Rubio were selected in the 2009 draft, Irving was selected in 2011, and Lin was undrafted. So out of all the 2010 draftees, PG placed second behind Cousins.
At the moment, PG has been kind of under the radar because of flashier players and the fact he plays for the small market Pacers. But if he can win the dunk contest on All-Star Saturday, look for his reputation to take off. Judging from some of the dunks he just pulled off in the Rising Stars Challenge, I'd say he has a good chance.
Here's some highlights of PG's career high 30-point game against the Mavs on Feb 13.