Superb defensive play is a major reason why the Indiana Pacers are the NBA’s last remaining unbeaten team.
Maintaining that status for one more game would set a franchise record.
The Pacers go for the best start in team history Saturday night, but to do so they’ll need to end a four-game losing streak to the Brooklyn Nets.
Indiana (6-0) hasn’t put together this strong of a start since it was in the ABA in 1970-71.
The Pacers have been the NBA’s top defensive team thus far, yielding league lows of 84.3 points per game and 37.8 percent shooting, including 32.0 from beyond the arc. They’ve allowed only one opponent to reach 40.0 percent from the floor.
Paul George is another key to Indiana’s success, ranking among the league leaders with 25.3 points per game and averaging 8.2 rebounds. After going 2 for 10 in the first half Friday, George scored 17 of his 23 points in the third quarter as the Pacers limited Toronto to 34.1 percent shooting over the final 24 minutes and won 91-84.
“I think I was just pressing,” George said. “I’ve got to continue to let the game come to me and let the game flow. I felt like sometimes out there I was pressing and that’s taking me out of my comfort zone.”
George didn’t seem very comfortable against Brooklyn (2-3) last season, averaging 13.7 points and shooting 31.1 percent as the Pacers lost all three meetings.
Indiana’s most recent win in the series came on Feb. 16, 2012, when they Nets were still in New Jersey.
The Pacers dropped their only visit to Brooklyn on Jan. 13, falling 97-86 while George had 15 points,12 rebounds and six steals.
Roy Hibbert has averaged 10.3 points and shot 37.8 percent during Indiana’s four-game skid against the Nets, but he should feel confident heading into this meeting after going for 20 against the Raptors.
“I don’t expect to have 20-point nights all the time,” Hibbert said. “I just wanted to be solid on defense and give the team as much as I could on offense. I try to be the backbone on the defense and luckily some of my shots went in.”
While Hibbert has struggled against Brook Lopez, Brooklyn’s center has thrived when facing Indiana. Lopez averaged 21.3 points and 3.0 blocks in last season’s series, and he’s averaged 22.3 points in 10 meetings against Indiana since the 2009-10 season.
Lopez, who scored 23 in Friday’s 112-108 overtime loss Washington, is hitting 61.2 percent from the field thus far.
The Nets are hoping Paul Pierce can shake his recent illness and show some improvement. The forward mustered a season-low four points while sinking just 1 of 5 from the field against the Wizards.
“He’s a pro. He put the uniform on, not feeling well,” first-year coach Jason Kidd said. “But he came out and gave us everything he could. To be able to answer the call in that overtime, that just shows his leadership and being a professional.”
Kevin Garnett, meanwhile, is having an even tougher time adjusting to his new team, averaging 6.0 points on 30.4 percent shooting.
“I’m not in an offensive rhythm that I would like,” Garnett said. “But that’s not a priority here. The priority is getting the stops and finishing teams off and finishing quarters off and coming out with better thirds. Who cares about this offense? Needless to say, we got to make buckets.”