The Indiana Pacers fell to 0-4 in the NBA preseason on Wednesday evening with a 92-85 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on their home floor. Time and time again, we find ourselves debating whether or not the exhibition games matter in the grand scheme of things when a team looks at their season. While the standings will be cleared on Tuesday, Oct. 29, when Indiana opens the regular season, a couple wins on the road in the next week will help this team see the results of the hard work put forth this offseason.
Late in the first quarter of Wednesday’s game vs. Dallas, forward Danny Granger left the game due to a pain in his leg and did not return. After the game, it was revealed that Granger suffered a strained calf injury and did not practice the following day. Listed as day-to-day and questionable for Thursday’s matchup with Chicago, it’s obvious that Granger has had some of the worst luck since returning from his knee surgery in the spring. This preseason, he is shooting 10-for-37 from the field and went directly from experiencing pain in his back to another setback now with the calf.
Thursday’s practice at Bankers Life Fieldhouse had a unique tone and mood. Scrimmaging each other before heading to pack for Chicago, players felt that this was the most aggressive practice thus far. In one particular sequence, coach Frank Vogel explained to his team the importance of a quality pump fake in the paint and had his guys implement the move each time they ran the play. Guard Orlando Johnson followed coach’s orders and delivered a useful fake near the rim, only to get whacked straight in the face by teammate Lance Stephenson. Accidental? Yes, pump fakes get defenders in the air for you to take advantage. Vogel’s reaction? Not so positive. Vogel stopped the play immediately and told the team three times in a serious manner, “Don’t hit teammates like that.”
Forward Chris Copeland, who Indiana signed this offseason, talked to the media after practice with a visible cut under his right eye. When asked about it, he said, “Yeah, this is from today. Today was a very aggressive practice, as you can see.”
What does this mean?
It demonstrates that Indiana is shaping up to be the “bad boys” of the Eastern Conference, which some would argue started in the 2011-12 postseason against the Miami Heat. They are not going to be a team that will be walked all over by the offensive stars, and you will likely see this team drawing a lot more fouls in the paint due to the versatility Copeland and Luis Scola bring to the table. Both are very good, if not great, finishers due to their soft touch. Mixing that with the hard-nosed, bully basketball that David West and Roy Hibbert play in the paint and Coach Vogel has himself a basketball team full of various weapons that can hurt defenses in different ways.
How will the team approach Friday’s game at Chicago?
Already dropping a preseason meeting with the Bulls on Oct. 5 may increase their focus in this matchup, but it’s still unclear of who will be on the floor for majority of the minutes. Paul George (bronchitis), Roy Hibbert, George Hill, and David West all did not play in Wednesday’s game. The plan for Friday seems to be quite different, however, as Vogel stated at practice that he will “try to have everyone” for the game on Friday.
From Vogel’s demeanor towards this game against Chicago, it’s becoming clear that even he is eager to get their first win of the year.
During practice, three players didn’t sprint back on defense after turning over the ball. Vogel walked to half court, stopped the play, and expressed his frustration with the lack of urgency. “You can’t wait four or five seconds to run back on defense! You want Derrick Rose to drop 40 tomorrow?” The opponent is obviously in his mind, and he made sure to let his guys know that Rose just feeds on transition basketball and those types of things can’t happen if they want a preseason victory.
Paul George appears to be overcoming his bronchitis and looked like a team leader at practice, giving advice to rookie Solomon Hill and getting good looks from the three point line in transition. It’s still unclear as to how many minutes he sees on Friday, however.
Indiana will look to avoid falling to 0-5 in the preseason before heading out for their next three road games. That’s right, preseason action is finished in Bankers Life Fieldhouse and fans will hope to see a healthy team on the floor at the same time during their remaining games at Chicago, Cleveland, Atlanta and Dallas.
Do the Pacers buy into the importance of winning a lot of exhibition games?
Backup point guard C.J. Watson addressed the idea, by saying, “It’s just preseason. As long as we keep getting better each and every game, improving on things we didn’t do the previous game, I think that’s what we’re mostly looking for. We want to win, but we can improve on stuff that we lacked in the last game.”
Watson is absolutely correct here. When you consider preseason games as a preview of how the team will play in the regular season, you forget that starters rarely play more than 30 minutes in exhibition and bench players are given a brighter green light with the ball than they would have in the regular season or playoffs. With that being said, nobody likes losing all the time. Indiana understands the return of Derrick Rose has looked impressive in the last two weeks. There is no doubt that they will look to slow him down on Friday.
This team doesn’t need any more motivation, but 0-4 in the preseason seems to have already given it to them.