The Indiana Pacers are in the midst of an NBA rarity. On Wednesday night the team will play its third game in three days, a statistical quirk that hasn’t happened in the NBA this year and usually is only a feature of lockout-shortened seasons. The workload would be a damning thing for most teams, but the Pacers appear to be thriving. When they take on the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night, the team will attempt to sweep the triptych and win its fifth game overall. If the struggling Chicago Bulls lose to Denver on Thursday, the Pacers will boast a 1.5 game lead over Chicago in the Central, despite not featuring scorer Danny Granger all season.
What the team has been allowed to feature is All-Star Paul George, and former All-Star David West. West fell just short of making his third All-Star team when opposing coaches left him off of this year’s roster (and the NBA chose Brook Lopez to take the injured Rajon Rondo’s place). I thought West was deserving of a nod full stop, a few hours after posting this I regretted choosing Al Horford over West to my picks. The Pacers, including guard George Hill, think it’s a full slap. From the Indianapolis Star:
"We're atop our division and only got one player in (the game)," he said. "That's kind of a slap in our face. It tells you what (others) really think of us."
The problem is that few think of the Pacers in the first place enough to showcase a lack of respect for the team. West is anonymous as stars come, an efficient sturdy scorer and rebounder that features textbook fundamentals while truly never taking a play off. He’s perfect for sportswriters like me that adore his game, but hardly a big sell to the crowds that tune into TNT or ABC contests.
It’s also an easy sportswriter cliché to point out a player’s worth to a team, giving that context more weight than his actual individual production, but it is true that the Pacers would be in a huge hole offensively were it not for West’s point-per-every-other-minute rate and near-49 percent shooting. The team’s movement and spacing has noticeably improved over the last two weeks, but it was the big forward that kept the Pacers from ranking last in the NBA in offense over the first half of the season.
The team currently stands at 25 out of 30 teams. Nothing remarkable, but certainly potent enough when paired with what is now the NBA’s best defense.
Chicago has flirted with that top defensive mark all season, and they’ve been rewarded with All-Star berths for Joakim Noah and Luol Deng based mostly on that pair’s standout defensive play. When the NBA had to cancel Indiana’s Dec. 26 game against the Bulls due to an Indy snowstorm and reschedule for six weeks later, it was considered a win for Chicago – some thought there was an outside chance Derrick Rose would be back by then, and Indiana would have to play those three consecutive contests in the heat of a divisional race.
Instead, Chicago showed up to Indianapolis on Monday without Rose, Noah, Kirk Hinrich, while featuring two players in Deng and Carlos Boozer that are working through significant injuries. Indiana didn’t dominate, but the Bulls were felled by the better team that has earned its top mark in the division. And there’s a reason the Pacers gave Miami all it could handle in a win last Friday, even with a healthy Dwyane Wade and LeBron James playing a more efficient brand of ball – two Heat attributes that weren’t around last May, when the Pacers took a 3-2 lead on the eventual champs.
The Pacers just play on a string, as every rotation and positioning decision seems like something that coaches would draw up in their dreams. I could go on with more fawning language, but let’s let a real coach – Coach Nick at BBallbreakdown.com – take the lead. Watch:
The whole video is just utter basketball nirvana for those that like to tap into these things. Save for when Tyler Hansbrough is involved, I suppose, but so great nevertheless.
Frank Vogel has these Pacers playing so well defensively that you just don’t mind those entire quarters that they ignore the side to side action that the team often does so well. Both Chicago and Indiana, on average, have terrible offenses in terms of production. In terms of execution? Working plays to near-perfection … save for that shot that doesn’t go in? They’re fantastic. Even if they have to take out an opposing power forward or two along the way.
Even if the Pacers take all three, down Philadelphia, and continue to pull away from Chicago the Central story won’t be finished until late April. Rose will return at some point, Noah will be able to walk without grimacing, and the Pacers will be warmly welcoming the return of Danny Granger and the hoped-for (offensively at least, because he’s been fantastic defensively) re-emergence of Roy Hibbert. Even over halfway into this season neither team has fully fleshed its rotations out, and though the Pacers have taken both contests from Chicago this season, the teams still have two to play.
And the Pacers have another to play on Wednesday night, their third in three days and part of a five-game in seven-day stretch. Good thing they have one All-Star to help in that turn, and the presence of a (presumably) ticked-off former All-Star working as he always has.
David West may not be an All-Star this season, but the basketball junkies (eventually including this dumb guy, after some reconsidering) know his worth. Too bad Eastern conference coaches, apparently, don’t share the same opinion.