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Pacers have shown encouraging signsPosted Wednesday, December 3, 2008, at 4:09 PM
INDIANAPOLIS -- I am writing this column before my beloved Indiana Pacers travel to Boston for a date Wednesday night with the defending World Champion Celtics and less than 24 hours after a 118-117 victory over the Los Angeles, handing the Lakers just their second loss of the season.
I don't know if you noticed what happened on Nov. 1 at Conseco Fieldhouse, but that was the night the Pacers handed the Celtics a good-old whipping behind the woodshed. The Pacers dominated, winning 95-79 in a game that wasn't that close. Celtics coach "Doc" Rivers pulled his starters with six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
So needless to say, the Celtics, who now own the best record in the NBA with a 17-2 mark, will be waiting in the weeds in Beantown to even the score with Indiana. I am hoping, but not expecting a second victory over the Cs, at least until Sunday when they visit Indy again.
Although the Pacers are just 7-10 after Troy Murphy's tip-in to beat the Lakers, there have been a lot of encouraging signs that the 2008-09 version of the "Blue and Gold" are heading in the right direction.
The Pacers have been able to be competitive in virtually every game this season, with the exception of road games at Chicago and Orlando. They have led at half-time 10 times, but have had trouble closing out games.
They literally gave games away at Dallas and at home against Philadelphia and Orlando. But they overcame a 10-point deficit to win at Houston.
They should have won against Charlotte last Friday, a game I was fortunate and unfortunate enough to attend. They missed more point-blank shots than you would expect to see in a junior high game.
They had a shot at the end of regulation to win, but Danny Granger, who has been nothing short of spectacular this season, missed. The Bobcats outplayed the Pacers in overtime and frustrated us like they always seem to do.
I think the Pacers, who started 4-3, could easily be 10-7 or 11-6. I don't think they even sniffed .500 last year.
They have done all this without last season's leading scorer Mike Dunleavy, who has missed all 17 games with a bone spur in his knee.
The combination of T.J. Ford and Jarrett Jack at point guard has made Jamaal Tinsley all but forgotten. Tinsley reportedly is working out in Atlanta in hopes to get an opportunity to play again, when the Pacers find someone willing to take a chance on the troubled, but talent guard. He is still on the roster in name only.
Marquis Daniels has done a great job of replacing Dunleavy, scoring in double figures in all but one game. He is averaging over 16 points per game, a career-best, in his first healthy season as a Pacer.
Murphy is reverting back to the form he displayed at Golden State after coming out of Notre Dame. He has had nine straight games with double figures in rebounds.
He is averaging 11 points and 11 rebounds per game while shooting just a shade under 40 percent from 3-point range.
Rookies Brandon Rush and Roy Hibbert have showed flashes of what the future might bring. Rush is playing over 22 minutes per game while Hibbert is playing 10 minutes a night.
And let us not forget about Granger. The 6-7 swing man is sixth in the league in scoring at 24.7 ppg. Believe it or not, he is among the leaders in blocks at 1.69 per game.
Granger, who scored 32 against the Lakers, has emerged as a potential All-Star in the absence of Dunleavy.
I don't know how good this team can become, but they are better defensively, holding the Lakers to 16 points in the fourth quarter Tuesday. At one time this year, they were tied for third in defensive field goal percentage. Opponents are now shooting .436 against the Pacers currently.
As a friend of mine said, they are fun to watch as well. They are averaging over 22 assists per game, four more than their opponents.
I still have hopes of this team, led by coach Jim O'Brien, finishing 41-41 and earning a playoff spot. I don't think that is out of the question by any means.
I am hoping this could be like 1993-94, when the Pacers in the first year under coach Larry Brown started 16-23 and ended just one game short of making it to NBA Finals.
A guy can still dream, can't he?
B.J. Hargis is sports editor at the Greene County Daily World. He can be reached at (812) 847-4487, ext. 12 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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