In an Eastern Conference that appears even more atrocious than last season, two teams are playing fantastic basketball and keeping the conference out of complete laughingstock status. The Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat are competing at a high level and continue to find ways to claw out wins. But make no mistake, the Pacers are undoubtedly the best team in the league, beginning the season with the franchise’s best start in history at a 16-1 record.
Indiana’s latest victory came Sunday afternoon as they began their 5-game Western Conference road trip. The Pacers visited Staples Center and took on the Los Angeles Clippers, who were without shooting guard J.J. Redick due to a fractured right hand. Indiana survived a late push by Los Angeles and survived to take the 105-100 win behind Paul George‘s 27 points, six rebounds, and five assists. In three of the biggest road games the Pacers have encountered thus far in the season, George has came up huge in the scoring department and allowed his team to escape victorious.
Notable road performances for Paul George:
Nov. 5th @ Detroit – 31 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists
Nov. 9th @ Brooklyn – 24 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists
Nov. 20th @ New York – 35 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 5 steals
Nov. 22nd @ Boston – 27 points
Dec. 1st @ LA Clippers – 27 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists
That’s a 28.8 points per game scoring average in those five road games, all hostile environments. Most importantly, all came in wins, which is becoming an everyday thing for this team.
Against the Clippers, the real story may have been veteran David West, who doesn’t normally look to be a huge part in the offense like he was on Sunday. West scored 24 points (14 in the fourth quarter alone) on 11-of-22 shooting and collected 12 rebounds. It was great to see the physical power forward step up when his team needed him to, as he attempted the second most shots of the game. From watching this team operate night in and night out, they are at their best when their frontcourt is scoring efficiently, and in bunches. That includes Roy Hibbert as well, considering the big man also converted efficiently by shooting 8-of-16 from the field and producing 19 points. Anytime your starting frontcourt can give you 70 points (George, West, Hibbert), it takes some of the pressure off the guards in terms of how they need to approach the game.
After the game, Head Coach Frank Vogel discussed just how monumental David West’s energy and approach to Sunday’s game was:
“David (West) is just kind of picking his spots, letting everybody else grow and do his thing. When we needed him, he just stepped up and was a beast.”
What Vogel was alluding to was the adjustment West has made this season (and last) by letting the team’s younger players grow and be the driving forces of the offense. West was easily the second option in his days in New Orleans with Chris Paul, posting two seasons above the 20-point per game scoring mark. This year, he has willingly taken a step back while the ever-so improved Lance Stephenson, George Hill, and Roy Hibbert are all producing more than anyone expected prior to this year. You can’t say enough about West’s attitude with this Pacers team. We he isn’t about individual numbers, accolades, recognitions, or reputation. His only focus at this stage of this career is to play basketball up until June, and capture his first NBA championship, along with the teammates he chose to stay with rather than testing free agency this summer.
In terms of relieving the backcourt, that’s exactly what West’s and George’s play did on Sunday. In a season where Lance Stephenson and George Hill are averaging 21.1 shot attempts per game and have both improved their 3-point accuracy, it was quite surprising to see the duo only take 11 shots in the win over the Clippers. Of course, Stephenson was mildly embarrassed by Jamal Crawford’s dazzling handles (no shame in that), but he continues to be yet another rebounding force for Indiana.
Both teams shot an acceptable percentage from the field (IND – 43.8 percent LAC – 43.9 percent), but it was the Clippers that had the upper hand in bench production. Los Angeles scored 44 bench points to Indiana’s 17. Not one Pacers’ bench player tallied over 18 minutes, which continues to show how much Vogel trusts the conditioning level of his starters.
Could this be a cause for concern?
As much as we praised General Manager Kevin Pritchard‘s decision to trade for Luis Scola and let Tyler Hansbrough walk, limiting Scola’s minutes doesn’t give good indication that his presence is going to matter until the playoffs arrive. In the regular season, maybe Vogel can get away with overloading his starters with minutes, but take note that it could have just been because Sunday’s game was against a Western Conference title contender and Indiana was on a mission to make a statement.
Next Up (Monday, Dec. 2nd at Portland)
Indiana will dive deeper into their long road trip, as they caught a flight to Portland on Sunday and are set to take on the Trail Blazers (14-3) in what looks to be their toughest test yet. Portland is tied with the San Antonio Spurs atop the Western Conference standings and is led by the dynamic duo of LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard. Coming off a victory late Sunday night against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Trail Blazers could send a message to all fans and analysts that they are a force to be reckoned with if they are able to put away the young, cohesive Pacers squad.
David West vs. LaMarcus Aldridge – Two different styles of power forwards will be matched up against each other. Aldridge has become one of the top two power forwards in basketball, arguably second to only Kevin Love. He makes his presence known on the offensive side of the ball, averaging 22.4 points per game and developing a mid-range jumper that drives defenses crazy this season. It is literally pick your poison with Aldridge, just ask the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers. West, on the other hand, lets his defense speak the loudest. He isn’t afraid to be aggressive and WILL make it tough on anyone that decides to post him up. Watch for these two to go at it throughout the whole game and ultimately be the matchup that decides who comes away the victor.