For the Indiana Pacers, the preseason ended smoothly after the team experienced five consecutive losses. With the final three exhibition games resulting in wins against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks and Dallas Mavericks, the Pacers were able to keep their composure and avoid going 0-8 in the games that essentially mean nothing. With division rival — yes Derrick Rose, I said “rival” — mustering an impressive 8-0 record in the preseason, it was essential that Indiana got a tremendous performance from Paul George in the finale vs. Dallas. George scored 28 points, grabbed six rebounds and dished six assists while shooting 12-for-22 from the field.
The final week of the preseason displayed how comfortable the newest additions are feeling in Indiana’s rotation, especially veteran Luis Scola. In the Oct. 22 game at Atlanta, Scola shot 66.7 percent from the field while scoring 20 points in 18 minutes. Tyler Hansbrough was a tenacious player in the frontcourt last season for Indiana, but Scola’s decision making and ability to step out and knock down a consistent 15-foot jump shot is why Pacers’ fans will love him more.
Opening Night — vs. Orlando
Tuesday, Oct. 29 marks the beginning of the Pacers’ journey, one that most believe could include preventing a fourth team in NBA history from three-peating as champions. The Miami Heat are looking to join the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls as the only teams to accomplish the feat, but will have their hands full this season with Indiana’s size. But, that’s for another story filled with tons of varying opinions.
Back to Tuesday’s opener, the Pacers will take on the Orlando Magic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, a venue in which Indiana protected very well last season by finishing the year 30-11 at home. Orlando may be missing wingman Tobias Harris due to his day-to-day ankle injury, but still have an interesting duo of rookie Victor Oladipo and center Nikola Vucevic. If Indiana isn’t careful, the coming out party for Oladipo may begin as early as Tuesday. Does that mean Orlando steals a win? The odds keep getting slimmer the more I think about Paul George attacking the matchups with an older Hedo Turkoglu and inferior Aaron Afflalo.
Want detailed predictions on what teams will win on Opening Night? Watch Emily Gruver and I break down each of the three games here:
Wednesday, Oct. 30 — at New Orleans
Indiana’s second game features a more intriguing matchup, as the Pacers travel to New Orleans to take on the Pelicans, who have a lot to look forward to in their first year with the new nickname. We all know that pulling off the draft-day trade for point guard Jrue Holiday was spectacular for general manager Dell Demps, as well as obtaining guard/forward Tyreke Evans to put together an athletic core.
The scary part? That didn’t even mention their best scorer through the years, Eric Gordon, and the sophomore stud Anthony Davis. If Davis plays anything like he has in the preseason, this team will not be looking into the playoff hunt, they will be in it. However, matching up with the Pacers doesn’t equal success for the Pelicans. Roy Hibbert and David West are just too much for the young and inexperienced interior of Davis, Greg Stiemsma, and Jason Smith. Indiana will escape the flock of birds and advance to 2-0.
Saturday, Nov. 2 — vs. Cleveland
The first NBA weekend will include an absolute showdown that I have the opportunity to witness first hand. One of the most talked about teams in the league (partly because they shocked everyone with drafting Anthony Bennett No. 1 overall), the Cleveland Cavaliers will look to show the Eastern Conference why they are ready for the playoffs. While they indeed are, it’s not likely they come away with a win on Saturday. With the same core (Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson and an injured Anderson Varejao), the Cavaliers finished 10-31 on the road last season and just 3-11 in the Central Division. Andrew Bynum took part in majority of the team’s practice on Sunday, but even with him out there, Indiana is going to be much more prepared than this team.
The Cavaliers are young and more athletic than the Pacers and have a superstar point guard (in my eyes) that can be a threat to even the greatest defenses. We all witnessed what a dynamic point guard can do to Indiana in crunch time when Derrick Rose dropped 32 points (eight in the last three minutes) to bury the Pacers in one of their meetings this preseason. This will likely be Danny Granger‘s first game of the season (calf injury) and we should all look for him to look for his offense early. Defensively, Granger should be able to hold his own against the bigger small forwards of Bennett and Earl Clark. Irving’s and Waiters’ shooting will be needed to make this a close game, but in the end, Indiana rides their home crowd to a third straight win to start off the 2013-14 NBA season.
Q&A With Center Roy Hibbert
In their last weekend practice before the season begins, the Pacers looked extremely aggressive in team scrimmages on Sunday afternoon. Coach Vogel had the team shoot free throws after practice as well, considering they only shot 72 percent from the line throughout the preseason. I, along with other media members, had a chance to interview Roy Hibbert and ask him some general questions about this upcoming year. The conversation is below:
AY – Anthony Young
OM – Other Media
1) AY: “As a team, is there a different feel heading into the season opener opposed to the previous years you’ve been in Indiana?”
Hibbert: “It’s the same, you know, just working hard. We got a good group of guys.”
Quick hits: This Pacers team undoubtedly has some of the greatest work ethic throughout the summer, considering they never really had a superstar before this season. And I’m not even sure you can call Paul George or Roy Hibbert that just yet.
2) AY: “Were there any specifics that Coach Vogel went over today that will be key to use in the game against Orlando on Tuesday?”
Hibbert: “Yeah, every time we practice, we use something for the game. Hopefully it works (against Orlando). We’ve just been working on a lot of points of emphasis for us.
3) AY: “What part of your individual game was your main focus to improve this offseason, as well as in the preseason?”
Hibbert: “Just being solid, putting on a lot of size, lifting. Being able to finish in the paint, like I did in the playoffs.
Quick hits: Hibbert stepped up his game on both ends of the floor during the 2013 Playoffs, averaging 17.0 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game while shooting 51.1 percent from the field. In the regular season? Just 11.9 points and 8.3 rebounds, while shooting 44.8 percent. Simply put, the 7’2″ center plays in completely different stratosphere when it comes to postseason action.
4) AY: “You have Chicago, Brooklyn, Miami, and yourselves as the top favorites in the East. What is the thing that separates this team from the rest?”
Hibbert: “Just our experience, and bringing in guys like Scola, C.J (Watson), and Copeland, who had an excellent year last year, and Donald (Sloan). Bringing them into the fold. We are going to be more experienced than we were last year. We lost some athleticism, but experience goes a long way.”
5) OM: “How do you guys deal with the expectations? Do you embrace ‘we have championship potential’, or do you try to ignore that?”
Hibbert: “We know it’s out there, but we still play like we have a chip on our shoulder, like nobody really takes us seriously. People are talking about us, you know, winning it all, and taking down Miami. But, people need to understand that you can’t just fast forward to the Eastern Conference Finals. You know, you have to win the division, beat the teams that you are supposed to beat. Its going to be a tough road.”
There is one thing we all should have realized this offseason. The Eastern Conference will be loaded with excitement in the 2013-14 NBA season. It just so happens, this conference has developed a new favorite for the NBA Finals: The Indiana Pacers.