The Indiana Pacers arrive in town on the tails of a stunning 95-92 victory over the LAL at the Staples center. The win improves their record to 8-7 which is 1 game behind Chicago and good enough for 5th place in the East. Their road record 4-2 is actually better than their home record of 4-5, and they are currently 3-3 against the West with wins against the Nuggets, Clippers and Lakers and losses against the Spurs, Rockets and the Thunder.
The stark improvement of the Pacers hasn’t come from major player movement. Although, the trade that sent Troy Murphy to the Nets did bring back Darren Collison their starting PG, and James Posey. But, Paul George the 6-8 forward from Fresno State, their 1st round pick (#10), has only averaged 16 minutes in 8 games. And Lance Stephenson, their 2nd round pick (#40), hasn’t seen action since late October. Their only losses were Earl Watson signing with Utah and Luther Head signing with the Kings.
No, the major change in the Pacers has come from improved Defense and the breakout year that Center Roy Hibbert is having in his 3rd season. Among centers Hibbert is currently 6th in scoring, 16 ppg and 6th in rebs 9.6 per game. He’s also 2nd in assists and 7th in blocks. The dramatic improvement seems to be the result of improved conditioning and the tutelage of the legendary Grateful Dead aficionado and current Kings Commentator Bill Walton.
The end result is a team that beat LA by 3 while holding them to 38.6% FG%, lost to OKC by 4 holding them to 38.9% FG%, and beat the Heat by 16 while holding them to 38.7% FG%. They out rebounded Orlando 51-42 and 16-5 on the offensive board, in a 4 pt loss, and they outscored the Nuggets 144-113 on 64% field 53% 3pt% and 76% FT%. So, it seems that the Pacers can beat you with their defense and rebounding, and they can kick your brains in when they get hot from the 3pt arc were they average over 25 attempts per game.
You know it’s a crazy season when you hear things like the "Pacers doing it with defense." But, this is what Mike Dunleavy had to say, "We’re doing it with defense. The biggest difference between this year and past seasons is that we’re stopping people and not relying on our offense to carry us."
Indiana still averages just under 100 ppg and out scores their opponent by 3, while the Kings average around 94 pts and get outscored by 6. The Pacers are 24th in FG% and the Kings are 28th. Indiana is 15th in 3PT% and the Kings are 30th, and in FT% shooting Indiana is 9th and the Kings are 28th. The Pacers are 4th in rebs, the Kings are 7th. And, the Pacers are 2nd in blocks at 6.6 but 5th in getting blocked. Kings average 5.6 blocks per game. Neither team is high in steals but the Kings are better at protecting against steals. Both teams are middle of the road in turnovers, and are in the top 5 in committing fouls.
Indiana’s Starters are Granger, McRoberts, Hibbert, Rush, and Collison. The primary bench players are Ford, Posey, Jones, Dunleavy, and Hansburgh. Granger leads all players with 21.7pts in 37.7 mpg, on 44% field, 41% from 3PT, and 87.5% from the FT line. Hibbert is 2nd in scoring and the leading rebounder in 30 mpg. Collison is contributing scoring more than playmaking, with the 3rd highest ppg at 13.9 on 45% field, 42% from 3’s and 89% from the FT line while only averaging 4.3 assists per game. Brandon Rush is the only other starter to average double digit points at around 11 per game. While McRoberts contributes less than 6 ppg, he is the 2nd leading rebounder and a good defender who averages 1 block per game.
Mike Dunleavy is the only bench player contributing double digit points at 12.6 ppg. The big 3pt threats are Granger who attempts 6.5 per game, Collison who leads the team with a 62% eFG% from 3, Dunleavy who attempts 5.2 per game, and Posey who attempts 5.1 per game Hansburgh and Posey back up McRoberts at PF, Dunleavy subs for Granger, Ford relieves Collison, and Jones has been subbing for Hibbert with Jeff Foster out.
For the 2nd game in a row the Kings will play a team with a top rebounding center, a high scoring SF, and a quick PG who can shoot from outside and get to the rim. Although Granger isn’t going to attack the basket like Deng did. Less than 25% of Grangers’ shots come from inside 10ft, and almost 70% come from long 2’s and 3pt shots. Hibbert will take around 4.5 shots a game from outside 10 ft but shoots less than 32% from there. But, he can make passes and set up his teammate for easy baskets so you can play him loose but watch for cutters.
Indiana takes the 4th fewest attempts at the rim and the 3rd highest number of attempts from 3pt range. And the Kings allow the 9th fewest baskets at the rim and the fewest made 3pt shots (4.9) in the fewest attempts (13.9) in the league. I think our defense around the rim will stand up but I’m not so sure about the exterior defense. With McRoberts not a major scoring threat, we could see JT & Dalembert starting again with JT on Hibbert and Sammy playing weak side shot blocker, but I fear that JT won’t be able to handle Hibberts height and length.
I don’t see where we need to double anyone on the Pacers. Our front court matches up very well defensively, and Luther should have an easier time with Collison than he did with Rose. As for our reserves, I like Beno defending T.J. Ford, Omri versus Dunleavy, and any of our PF’s against the Pacers PF’s. We just have to stay home on the 3-pt shooters.
The outcome of the game will depend on how well our offense can perform against the Indiana defense. Does that have a familiar ring to it? Unfortunately, the Kings are averaging 81.4 ppg in the last five games. Sacramento has not scored more than 86 points in each of those games. And, that’s with the Kings being 2nd in the league in second-chance points. And, our bench outscoring our opponents bench 11 times including the last 6 games
Hopefully, the players learned something from viewing the differences between the 1st half and 2nd half of the Chicago game. Unfortunately, knowing what you need to do and doing it are 2 different things. Indiana is doing it on both ends of the court, but can we? I’ll be watching to find out. Go Kings.