Tonight, the Pacers took on the Yao-less Houston Rockets, who have struggled themselves out of the gate. It was a close game with some questionable calls down the stretch (including a tech on Josh McRoberts and a series of no calls as the Pacers tried to claw their way back), but the Pacers couldn't get off a decent three point shot on the final possesion, losing 102-99 and dropping to 3-4 for the season.
I knew this was going to be a tough game because even though the Rockets were only 1-6 coming into the game (winless on the road) and are currently without both Yao Ming and Aaron Brooks, they are a solid team -- perhaps the best 1-6 team I've seen! And when key guys are out, the other guys usually step up.
That's exactly what happened tonight as Brad Miller lit up his former team for 23 points, including a couple of big threes down the stretch, Kevin Martin had 20 and Luis Scola had 16. But the guy that posed the most obvious problems was Kyle Lowry, who made both Darren Collison and TJ Ford struggle on the defensive end.
For the Pacers, James Posey, who didn't even play against the Nuggets, top scored with 19 points, including several big shots in the third quarter as the Pacers erased a 10 point deficit. Danny Granger added 17, Roy Hibbert had 18, and Mike Dunleavy had 15.
What this game showed, once again, is that this Pacers team is going to have A LOT of ups and downs this season. This game was not as bad as the thrashing at the hands of the 76ers earlier in the season, but it wasn't anything close to what we saw against the Nuggets either. Still too many bad passes, bad shot decisions, bad turnovers. Their defense is still not there yet, but when this team is sharing the ball, they are a nightmare to guard. If they can just get a bit of consistency at both ends of the court, there is no reason why this team cannot make the playoffs.
Other things this game showed:
1. Brandon Rush isn't going to average 16 points a game this season (which was what he scored in his first game!). He struggled with open shots tonight, going 1-7 and finishing with just 2 points. Let's just hope he's capable of averaging 12-14 a night. I think that's realistic.
2. Tyler Hansbrough played just 11 minutes and scored 4 points, but the kid has potential. Offensively, he is a huge upgrade on Josh McRoberts. I like Josh and the energy he brings, but he isn't good enough to be a starter, even on this team. He does a good job rebounding and hustling, but he counters the good with a lot of bad decisions and his offensive game is sporadic at best.
3. Rookie Paul George got dropped out of the rotation as O'Brien says the kid's head is not in the right place at the moment. I'm no NBA coach, but Jim O'Brien's decisions really puzzle me. What is the deal with his rotations? You don't play Posey one night, and the next night he gets 26 minutes. Posey was on fire in the third quarter, but what does O'Brien do at the start of the fourth? Take him right out. I just don't get it.
4. Granger is a terrific player, but he can't carry this team alone. He doesn't have that superstar aura about him yet. He seldom takes over a game when he needs to. When guys like Kobe, Wade, Lebron, Paul, Durant, etc get the ball with the clock winding down, you believe they're going to score or make a play leading to a score. You don't get that with Granger. Not yet anyway.
5. Collison is going to be a great PG in this league, but he's not there yet either. He shows flashes of brilliance but he too makes a lot of silly errors. There's no doubt he's a better player than TJ Ford, but I can understand why O'Brien goes with Ford over Collison sometimes.
Next up, the Pacers head to Cleveland to take on the Cavaliers. Very important game because they are entering a tough part of the schedule where they will face the likes of Atlanta, Orlando, Miami, Oklahoma City and the LA Lakers. If this young team falls too far behind 0.500 early in the season they may never recover.