The Orlando Magic wrap up the road portion of their schedule tonight when they visit the lottery-bound Indiana Pacers at Conseco Fieldhouse, the only Eastern Conference facility in which they've failed to win this season. Indiana's sabotaged its lottery chances with its recent hot streak by winning 10 of its last 12 games, including victories against Oklahoma City, Utah, and Cleveland. The Pacers' lottery-be-damned attitude of late, as well as their commitment to coach Larry O'Brien and president Larry Bird, seem to ensure that they'll be mediocre for the next several seasons, but I suppose it's admirable--if not a little counterproductive--that they aren't tanking. And if nothing else, they've put a product on the floor that eight-year-olds and their fathers can enjoy, as explained in that fantastic story by Tom Lewis.
|2009/2010 NBA Season|
|57-23 (24-16 away)
|32-48 (23-17 home)
|April 12th, 2010|
|Jameer Nelson||PG||Earl Watson|
|Vince Carter||SG||Brandon Rush|
|Matt Barnes||SF||Danny Granger|
|Rashard Lewis||PF||Troy Murphy|
|Dwight Howard||C||Roy Hibbert|
|December 14th: Magic 106, Pacers 98|
|January 5th: Pacers 97, Magic 90|
|January 20th: Magic 109, Pacers 98|
|91.9 (18th)||Pace||97.0 (2nd)|
|111.0 (6th)||ORtg||103.9 (26th)|
|103.1 (3rd)||DRtg||106.8 (13th)|
Now, Indiana isn't a very good team. If it were, it wouldn't have taken so long to get going. But I think Brian Schmitz is onto something when he attributes the Pacers' recent success to the fact that they're "extremely loose with nothing on the line." Indy had the day off yesterday, has come into its own, and has nothing for which to play; there isn't any pressure on it. Contrast those circumstances with Orlando's: the Magic played yesterday afternoon, looked a bit wobbly and lazy early on, and now controls its destiny with regard to homecourt advantage in the NBA Finals. That's a lot of pressure, I believe. How the Magic respond to it will go a long way toward determining tonight's outcome. There's a chance the Pacers will ambush them.
Indiana runs more than any team apart from the wacky Golden State Warriors, which could work against the tired Magic. But that's about it, really. Danny Granger's the franchise player and the offensive focal point, but he's fallen off a bit from last season's showing, which earned him his first All-Star selection. A big part of the problem is his chucking. He ends 28.5% of the Pacers' possessions, and he's more realistically a second- or third-banana on a good team. He leads the league in three-point attempts at 7.1 per game, and he shoots a respectable 36.7% on those. But what's more troubling, at least to me, is his approach everywhere else. Almost 90% of his treys are assisted, meaning he's not clanking too many of them off the dribble. But every other zone? He's creating his own shot off the dribble, freezing out his teammates, and pounding the ball into the floor.
Now, maybe that's not such a bad thing, considering the quality of his teammates. Still, you'd like for second-year center Roy Hibbert to get more touches down low, and a few more shots for three-point aces Brandon Rush (41.6%) and Troy Murphy (39.2%). Matt Barnes and Mickael Pietrus will have their hands full with Granger today, for sure.
Speaking of Rush, he's one of the league's worst rotation players, despite his great three-point stroke. ESPN's John Hollinger writes that he'll likely become "the worst player ever to lead his team in minutes," which has drawn the attention of some Pacers blogs such as Eight Points, Nine Seconds. With that said, he's connected on 48.7% of his three-pointers in the Pacers' last 10 games, and each has been assisted. Watch for the Pacers' dribble penetration, especially that of Earl Watson, who's assisted on 34 three-pointers in his last 10 games. Lord knows he's not going to do much else; among point guards, only Jason Kidd, Derek Fisher, and Chris Duhon end a smaller percentage of their teams' possessions than Watson.
Orlando's plan of attack offensively must revolve around Dwight Howard. Hibbert's physically imposing at 7'03", but he's about as mobile as the scoreboard above the court. Howard should be able to get by him with ease, and if nothing else force a help defender to foul him; incidentally, a confrontation between Howard and Murphy after a hard foul earlier this year sparked some controversy, as Howard and his teammates began speaking up about how they'd had it up to there with Howard getting hammered.
The Pacers are an ordinary defensive team, but the fact that 29% of their opponents' shots come from 16-to-23 feet really stood out to me. That's the highest ratio in the NBA, which makes me believe the Pacers have figured out that forcing their opponents to take the worst shot in the game is a sound defensive strategy. Vince Carter and Jameer Nelson have to be wary of settling for too many of those shots. That's always a concern with them, but especially now, on the second night of a back-to-back (when they might not have the energy or inclination to attack the basket), and against a team that's more than willing to concede that shot.
A final, trivial note: Haywoode Workman will officiate tonight's game, along with Sean Corbin and Pat Fraher. That's notable because Workman appeared in 215 games for the Pacers during his playing days.