The Indiana Pacers improved from a middling below .500 team to a playoff team that held a 2-1 series lead over the defending champion Miami Heat last season.
The process took a little more than a year to establish a perennial playoff roster — that, despite their talent, may not be strong enough to upend Miami in a seven-game playoff series.
To combat the Heat, the front office opted to re-sign guard George Hill and center Roy Hibbert long-term — at $40 milion and $58 million, respectively — to maintain continuity rather than venturing into the uncharted waters of free agency. The team has little financial flexibility as a result, considering the Pacers still owe forward Danny Granger $27.1 million over two seasons. The books will be lighter, however, next year when forward David West’s $10 million contract expires.
Point guard D.J. Augustin and forward Gerald Green were added to the roster through free agency. Ian Mahimni, acquired in a trade that sent point guard Darren Collison to the Mavericks, will fill in the gaps. These aren’t franchise centerpieces but they are expected to contribute valuable minutes in coach Frank Vogel’s rotation. Green has started the first three regular season games, averaging 10 points and three rebounds while adding enough perimeter shooting (1.3 3-pointers per game) to compliment the frontcourt duo of West and Roy Hibbert. The duo has averaged 30 points and 17.3 rebounds through three games.
Overall, the Pacers are a solid basketball team that doesn’t excel on either side of the floor. (Exemplified by their top 10 finishes in offensive and defensive efficiency last season.)
With little cap flexibility, at least immediately, and the threat of a Miami dynasty, the maturation of forward Paul George will be a key development to watch. Should he develop quickly, it could pave the way for a cost-cutting Granger trade. But Indiana can only afford to trade the 29-year-old Granger if George is able to carry the bulk of the scoring duty. Whether that may be too much to ask for remains to be seen.
For now, though, Indiana will have to be content with a strong, playoff contending roster. A title isn’t plausible barring any unforeseen external factors in their favor.
Perfection: The Spurs, dating back to 1968, have yet to begin the regular season with a 4-0 record.
Winless in San Antonio: Indiana has lost nine consecutive games to San Antonio, their longest such streak against any particular team.
With a win, the Pacers would also win their first game in the AT&T Center. Their last road win in San Antonio was on Jan. 4, 2002 in the Alamodome.
Where to watch: The game will be shown on Fox Sports Southwest (FSSW) locally at 7:30 p.m. CST. It will also air on stations 1200 WOAI and 1350 KCOR in Spanish.
Injury report: Danny Granger (sore left knee) will miss tonight’s game.
George Hill (hip) is day-to-day.