Last season, the Pacers were an emerging team with a young, malleable core.
At one point, after taking a 2-1 series lead over the eventual defending champion Miami Heat in the semifinals, league executives were fearing the potential of a ratings nightmare including the small-market Pacers and San Antonio Spurs.
That did not come to fruition. Miami discovered the efficacy of smaller, mobile and athletically superior lineups predicating on the versatile three-time MVP LeBron James; while Oklahoma City’s three pronged attack, with the help of Serge Ibaka’s midrange shooting, superseded San Antonio’s depth and execution.
Since neither team is talented enough to upend either team, they have compensated by improving their execution. San Antonio, last season’s top-ranked offensive team, carves up opposing defenses with pick-and-rolls, pin downs and the like. The offense has dipped to seventh this far, though the Spurs are still essentially shooting at the same percentage. That likely means that the slight uptick in turnovers — up from 13.6 per game to 15.3 this season — is the real cause for the (however minuscule) efficiency differential.
Indiana, at least this season, sacrifices offense for defense. Limiting opponents to the lowest effective field goal percentage (which accounts for additional value of 3-pointers) and grabbing defensive rebounds at an elite clip (.748) makes it increasingly difficult to win — even if said opponent is the 27th least efficient offense.
To compete with the large-market Heat, and their financial freedom, the Pacers signed point guard George Hill (four-years, $40 million) and center Roy Hibbert (four-years, $58.4 million) to long-term contracts. Paul George, averaging 15.2 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists in 35.5 minutes per game, is the next likely candidate for extension. He is due for restricted free agency prior to the 2014-15 season.
The long-term deals will limit future financial flexibility. Danny Granger’s contract expires in two seasons and could be let go depending on the maturation of George. Multiple contract extensions, as much as they might like to extend Granger, are simply impossible for Indiana.
Financial constraints and the talent gap between the Pacers and Heat are indicators that aren’t especially favorable.
But if you subscribe to the five percent theory — in which you need a minimum of five percent chance of winning an NBA championship to make contending worthwhile — then perhaps the Pacers have a shot.
Their offense is ineffective but they have enough rotation pieces to eventually move into the upper rungs of offensive efficiency. If the defense sustains their current pace, then maybe, just maybe, will Indiana slide by the Heat.
Good things come in 11? The Pacers have lost 10 consecutive games to San Antonio, including one loss already this season. The 79-101 loss was their largest losing margin of the season.
Roy Hibbert improving: Hibbert is still shooting below 40 percent from the field and is scoring a career low 11.6 points per 36 minutes. It is, to say the least, his worst showing of his career by any metric.
But in the past two games, both wins, Hibbert is averaging 15 points, 11.5 rebounds and 7.5 blocks — 11 coming in the 115-107 overtime victory over New Orleans.
Where to watch: The game will be shown on Fox Sports Southwest (FSSW) in San Antonio, FSN Indiana (FSI) in Indiana and NBA League Pass at 7:00 p.m. CST. It will also air on stations 1200 WOAI and 1350 KCOR in Spanish.
Injury report: Kawhi Leonard (quadriceps) and Stephen Jackson (fractured finger) are out.
Danny Granger will miss his 14th consecutive game with a sore left knee.