Why the Wolves Will Struggle against the Pacers

Pacers star Lance Stephenson was a schoolboy phenom at Brooklyn's Lincoln High School

Pacers star Lance Stephenson was a schoolboy phenom at Brooklyn’s Lincoln High School

Hi Folks, I’ve been traveling for the last week, unable to post but catching Wolves basketball on my laptop when I could.

Lots of ups and downs, from the disappointment of the four-point loss in Washington to letting off some steam against KG & the Brooklyn Nyets to a disappointing 112-101 loss at Houston on Saturday night against a Rockets team that was down one James Harden.

The inconsistent play is more a function of stretches of bad Wolves basketball than it is of running into the wrong team at the wrong time. The Wolves struggle to take and keep leads, as was particularly evident in the loss to Washington, with the exception being when they get out to giant first-half leads, which won’t be the case very often against the kinds of teams we’ll need to beat if we make the playoffs.

One team the Wolves are unlikely to get out to a big lead against is the Indiana Pacers, who host them tonight at Conseco Bankers Life Fieldhouse at 7 P.M. Eastern. You can see the game on League Pass.

The 12-1 Pacers are undefeated at Conseco Bankers Life  this season, and are 19-4 all-time when playing ‘Sota in their gym. The Pacers have two of the best defenders in the NBA in Paul George and Roy Hibbert. With his canny feel for the game and his long arms, George guards the wing like a young Scottie Pippen. Roy Hibbert leads the NBA in blocked shots and is the kind of rim protector Wolves fans dream Gorgui Dieng might someday become. Collectively, the Pacers currently allow the fewest points per game of any team in the NBA at 87.6 and hold opponents to a stingy 39.7 field goal percentage.

Lance Stephenson

A sign that everything is clicking in Indiana? Things are so good in Indiana right now that respected columnists have begun to wonder whether the Pacers will be able to afford Lance Stephenson, formerly the punchline of so many sordid jokes.

Stephenson has indeed been extremely solid this year, averaging 13.4 points, 6 boards, and 5 assists per game whilst looking a bit like Good Tyreke Evans (if you can remember back that far, to Evans’ rookie season, when ‘Reke was something of a world beater).

But during his 20/5/5 rookie campaign, ‘Reke wasn’t playing within the confines of an offense like Frank Vogel’s, as an (at best) third option, and being required to play the kind of defense each night that Vogel demands of Stephenson. Within this context,  Stephenson is managing to shoot 47% from the floor and almost 41% from distance.

Even Good Tyreke was never able to sniff those numbers and it makes Stephenson look like the kind of reclamation project good teams routinely concoct. Usually, it’s the Spurs, who’ve nurtured troubled players like Stephen Jackson into vital pieces of championship-contending teams. Now it appears that Indiana is in the same business, with Stephenson a case in point.  (Eds. Note: Ask Andy G and blog friend Brian J about their encounter with Stephenson, Bassy Telfair, Mike Beasley, and others, late at night in downtown Minneapolis a few years back. It’s a tale worth being retold.)

Here’s some footage of Lance Stephenson doing cool stuff

Paul George

Not much needs to be said about Paul George, but here’s a comparison: He’s averaging as many points as Kevin Love on fewer shots and is shooting a better percentage than Love both from the floor and from distance. (Current numbers here.)

Paul George is good

Paul George is good

And don’t forget, George might be one of the League’s top two or three defenders.

No, I’m not trying to argue that Paul George is better than Kevin Love–though some in League circles might be happy to do so.

But when we think of how incredible Love has been offensively this year, with the benefit of playing in an extremely fast-paced offense, it reveals how unbelievably good George has been offensively, particularly given that he’s getting many of his buckets in Vogel’s meat-grinder sets.

Anyway, Paul George is great, and yes, we all wish David Kahn would’ve selected him instead of Wes Johnson in the 2010 draft.

Another Paul–Paul Flannerywrote a great piece on George this weekend that you should all go and read.

Until later.

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