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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Pacers back at .500, for now

Posted Thursday, December 6, 2012, at 4:14 PM

Now is as good a time as any to write about my Indiana Pacers.

At this very moment, they are back at .500 (9-9) and tied with Milwaukee and Chicago atop the Central Division standings.

The Pacers began the 2012-13 season with lofty expectations after pushing the eventual NBA champion Miami Heat to six games in the conference semifinals last year.

But right before the season started, Danny Granger had to have a procedure done on his knee, which will keep him out for several months.

I think I was like a lot of Pacers fans who took Granger for granted. Admittedly, he sometimes settles for too many 3-pointers and has never been a great rebounder, but he spaces the floor and hits big shots.

He is never going to make anyone forget about Reggie Miller, but his abilities are missed, evidenced by the Pacers struggles to make it back to .500.

Another thing us fans didn't realize was that Granger's knee was hurt last year during the playoffs as he battled LeBron James. He has always been capable of being a good defender, which sometimes infuriates fans when he doesn't play defense.

But injuries are a part of the game. Nobody cares about Steve Nash being out of the Laker line-up, but the media is consumed by their 8-10 start.

I am still not sure what this Pacer team is all about. But the last two weeks have given guys like me some hope.

They had San Antonio beaten at home, but let them off of the hook. Then they went to LA and defeated the confused Lakers on a night where Kobe Bryant scored 40, but the Pacers won 79-77.

They defeated Sacramento and then played a bad second half and lost to a Mark Jackson coached Golden State team that started the season with 10 wins in 17 games.

Then Tuesday night in Chicago, a place that has always been tough for the Pacers to win, the Pacers gutted out a four-point victory.

Lance Stephenson, Larry Bird's guy, made a key late-game basket and Roy Hibbert blocked Lual Deng's potential game-tying shot in the final five seconds.

The Pacers have been one of the worst offensive teams in the NBA to start the season, but have been hanging their hat on defense lately, holding the Bulls under 80 points.

Ever since signing the big contract (four years, $58 million), Hibbert has struggled offensively. But he has been averaging right at three blocks per game, second in the league.

The Pacers need him to score and rebound and hopefully all of his hard work will help him find his groove again.

Stevenson actually looks like a professional basketball player. Coach Frank Vogel was searching for the right combination after Granger went down and it was putting Stephenson in the starting line-up, along side George Hill, Paul George, David West and Hibbert that seemed to work best.

Stevenson seems to continue to get more comfortable as the young, physically gifted, talented you man from New York is good enough to contribute on both ends.

Paul George has not been as consistent as you would expect a third-year player to be. After he broke the franchise record with nine 3-pointers in scoring a career-high 37 points, he scored 34 in his next four games, including putting up a goose egg at Golden State.

But he bounced back with 34 in the victory at Chicago.

He is good enough to average 20 points per game, especially with Granger out of the line-up. He is a great athlete who started the season rebounding like a demon.

His ball handling still needs work as he is just as likely to get five turnovers as five steals.

George Hill is finding his groove as starting point guard. He has hit two game-winners already this year and the Pacers need his talents and his leadership.

David West looks healthy and has put the Pacers on his back in a couple of wins.

The bench has been less than spectacular as Tyler Hansbrough, Gerald Green and D.J. Augustine and have been up and down at best.

Ian Mahinmi had outplayed Hibbert at times. He struggled early, but also has seemed to have found his niche.

The 9-9 record is not all that bad when you consider that 12 of those 18 games were played on the road and none of them included Granger.

The Pacers hosted Portland Wednesday night in a game they need to build some momentum. Thanks to the NBA schedule mafia for making the Pacers return home with no rest after playing a four-game road trip. Even that is cold for a team that usually is near the top of the league in back-to-back games scheduled.

Update, George poured in 22 points as the Pacers defeated Portland 99-92 to go over .500 since they started 2-1. West had 16 points and 10 rebounds.

I am still hopeful of a good seed and a deep run in the playoffs (boy can dream can't he?) We will need a healthy Granger and a healthy team and some luck along the way to make any kind of playoff push.

But no matter what, I still have a local team to root for. Believe me, I don't take that for granted. All you have to do is ask a Seattle SuperSonics fan about that one.

So my love-hate relationship continues with the Blue and Gold. As my mom said it best, "Them damn Pacers."

B.J. Hargis is the sports editor at the Greene County Daily World. He can be reached at (812) 847-4487, ext. 12 or at hargisbj@gmail.com.



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