They've shown they can beat the good teams on the road, and now the Indiana Pacers are showing that they can take care of business against lesser teams too.
Danny Granger scored a season high 37 points on 12-19 shooting, continuing his hot streak against Sacramento as the Pacers overcame the Kings, 107-98. Roy Hibbert again is demonstrating his candidacy for Most Improved with a solid 16 point, 8 rebound and 4 assist performance, and Darren Collison chipped in with 17 points and 6 assists as the Pacers raised their road record to an impressive 5-2 and overall record to 9-7.
Last season's ROY Tyreke Evans returned from illness and had 16 points, 9 assists and 7 rebounds, but also 6 turnovers. Beno Udrih was also hot, leading the way with 24 points for Sacramento. The guy the Pacers couldn't stop was rookie DeMarcus Cousins, who came off the bench to power his way to a 20 point, 8 rebound night, almost single-handedly bringing the Kings back from a 16-point third quarter deficit.
The Kings played very well in the first quarter. The Pacers raced out to a 6-0 lead, but the Kings would score the next 9 points in a see-sawing first half that saw the two teams tied at 52 all at the break. However, the Pacers would tighten up the defense at the start of the second half and race to a 78-60 lead, punctuated by a sick one-handed alley oop from TJ Ford to Josh McRoberts.
This was a scary game for the Pacers because once again, they were due for a letdown after stunning the Lakers just a couple of nights before. The Kings were struggling and I'm sure they looked at the Pacers as a team they could beat. But good on the Pacers for sticking to their run and gun game, pushing the ball up on every possession and getting good open looks. Fortunately they managed to knock some of them down and get the win.
- Granger had the big night, but I'm starting to think Hibbert is the one with the best chance of making the All-Star team from this Pacers squad.
- Good to see O'Brien playing Collison instead of Ford down the stretch tonight, and it paid off. The kid's gotta learn to deal with the pressure some time, and sooner rather than later.
- Solomon Jones and TJ Ford having both pleasantly surprising seasons thus far. Jones has been active at both ends of the floor, hustling for loose balls, even though he has drawn a few fouls in the process (he had 5 today and struggled, but did the best he could with a rampaging Cousins). Ford had zero points today, but he pushed the tempo and has settled into a comfortable back up role behind Collison. As Collison develops, Ford will get fewer minutes, but perhaps it will raise his trade value before the February deadline and allow AJ Price to come back into the mix.
- Mike Dunleavy is getting stacks of open shots but failing to knock them down. Not sure if it is his knees or just bad luck. We know he can get it going (as we saw against Denver in the freakish third quarter) but so far he's struggled.
- Brandon Rush continues to be aggressive at both ends and is starting to look like a much more confident player, kind of like the one that torched teams at the end of his first two seasons. His shot isn't always going down (6 points on 2-8 shooting today), but I like what I'm seeing, especially when he takes it to the rim.
- I love how everyone is starting to notice this team. Kobe apparently said the Pacers were definitely a playoff team, as did Stan Van Gundy when his Magic beat the Pacers last week. The commentators in the Lakers and Kings games all kept saying that the Pacers are a good team.
As evidenced tonight, Collison and Ford struggle with bigger PGs, and they don't come much bigger these days than Deron Williams, so it will have to be a total team effort on the defensive end. Paul Millsap might match up against Danny Granger, so that'll be a terrific contest, and Hibbert will have his hands full with Al Jefferson.
And the road doesn't get much easier after that, as the Pacers finish their 4-game West coast road trip against Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns, who are never easy to beat.