Indiana Pacers

Miami Heat: Eastern Conference Champions…again

In the end it was about as easy as we thought it would be when Indiana was barely shrugging off the Atlanta Falcons in round 1 of the playoffs – or getting blown out at home by the Washington Wizards in the second round – and the Miami Heat toyed with a 50 point lead at times in the 3rd quarter, eventually beating the Pacers 117-92 to win their fourth consecutive Eastern Conference Title.

Indiana had brought in just an element of doubt to the inevitability that the Heat, leading 3-1 going into game 5 in Indiana, would run away with the series after taking such a commanding lead in the series, with their 93-90 win on Wednesday night.  It was, however, a win that took place in the context of LeBron James having one of his worst ever playoff games, indeed games ever, with 7 points, 4 assists, 2 rebounds, 3 turnovers and 5 fouls and Indiana still only won by 3 and Miami had a shot to win it – James kicking to Bosh in the corner who saw his three point attempt rim out.

Indiana have been the definition of inconsistency these playoffs and questions will be asked about how they go forward from here.  Frank Vogel’s job is apparently safe and there is no chance they would trade Paul George, who now seems on the verge of making a couple of tweaks to his game to launch him into the category of superstar by most people’s definition.  David West is the model of consistency and professionalism.  Other players’ futures are less certain.

Lance Stephenson remains an enigma.  The moronic “choke” gesture he made to LeBron in the playoffs two years ago which fired James up; blowing in LeBron’s ear, cupping his face, standing over him after he was knocked to the ground; implying he was going to force Dwyane Wade to do something to injure his knees; and the 25 points in game 2 that looked like they might help the Pacers to a win in a game where no other starter scored more than 14.  Larry Bird had told Stephenson to stop trying to “get in LeBron’s head” – something he failed at spectacularly – and yet he still tried in game 6.  Stephenson knows how to rile some players – Evan Turner and he got into a fistfight at practice this season – but clearly doesn’t know when he’s beaten.  I genuinely would not have been surprised if he had grabbed LeBron by the nuts this series.  Or pulled his shorts down.  There is a lot of chatter on the internet that Stephenson’s antics have caused a number of teams – including Indiana – to drop their interest in the former second round pick out of Cincinnati.  Indeed, demand for Stephenson has been bipolar this offseason, perhaps finally hitting the trough in game 6.

There are rumors the team will not pick up Scola’s option for next season.  Scola is rumored to be a target for Houston, who, thanks to the somewhat bizarre amnesty-ing of him, cannot re-sign him until his contract expires in 2015.  Other teams will be casting admiring glances on a player who remains an offensive force, even if he cannot always guard quicker 4 men and is too short to defend the 5.  Hibbert has also been enigmatic but has a lot of money coming his way and, in a league where 5 men are becoming ever more versatile, will struggle to find a comfortable match.

Miami now await the winner of the San Antonio-Oklahoma City series which looks certain to go the distance.  Game 6 in Oklahoma is tonight and I’m sure more are expecting another home blowout of the visitors.  San Antonio have struggled to deal with the return of the “out for the season” Ibaka, but seemed to find their groove in game 5, even if it was at home.

Miami will certainly fancy themselves against the one-on-one oriented OKC offense which tries to play to the strengths of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook – and Reggie Jackson to an extent – and they will be ready for the shot blocking prowess of Serge Ibaka after yet another series against Roy Hibbert who, for all his faults and failings this postseason, is still a full four inches taller than Ibaka and was only 0.4 blocks per game behind Ibaka in the regular season.  Ibaka scores more, and more efficiently, than Hibbert and we should probably call a halt to the comparison there given Ibaka is more of a 4 man than a 5, a role usually played with little-to-no skill by Kendrick Perkins until he gets in foul trouble and is replaced by provocative rookie Steven Adams.

The Spurs offer more of a challenge to Miami who are no longer able to run teams off the floor as they were in seasons past.  The team is tired after four consecutive runs to the NBA finals and will have to dig deep against the Spurs who I have beating Miami in 6 in the Finals.

The Courtside Collective will be in attendance at the 2014 NBA finals so keep following us on Facebook and twitter! @courtsideco and @sandersandrew for all the latest!

San Antonio crush Oklahoma

San Antonio shot 58% from the field to run out comfortable 122-105 winners over an Oklahoma City Thunder team that was deprived of Serge Ibaka for “the remainder of the playoffs” with a calf strain.  Now, we all know that guys in the NBA are capable of making quick recoveries – remember Paul Pierce’s wheelchair game? – and the Spurs remain cynical that Ibaka is actually done for the year, but his absence was sorely noted by Thunder fans who saw Kevin Durant collect 28 points on 10-19 shooting (4-7 from three), Russell Westbrook contribute 25 and the rest of the starters?  5 points.  All from Kendrick Perkins.  Reggie Jackson and Derek Fisher also played well for Oklahoma but could not overcome another stellar Tim Duncan night (27 points), 18 points from Ginobili and a 14 point, 12 assist double-double from Tony Parker.

One can’t help feeling that Durant and Westbrook are good enough to win at least one game on their own, but they really need either multiple contributions from their team-mates, or else for one team-mate to step up and contribute 20+ points.  Fisher came closest to that last night but at 39, he cannot be relied upon night after night.

The efficiency with which the Spurs have played since they saw off Dallas in round 1 has been striking.  A team hitting form at just the right time, coming up against a talented but depleted opponent spells trouble for the NBA – particularly when a slug-fest appears to be developing in the Eastern conference between Indiana and Miami.

Indiana roll over Miami: where did things go right?

It’s been no secret that the Indiana Pacers have been pretty bad this offseason.  Indeed, March and April were tough months for them, going 14-16 and nearly ceding the East’s 1 seed to Miami until Miami seemed to ease off and accept the 2 seed – presumably because they felt that they could win their home games (in front of the ever loyal Miami crowd – that said, don’t let the empty lower bowl seats confuse you, those seats are only affordable to those who don’t really care) and take one in Indiana to give them a shot at a win in 7 over their 2013 Eastern finals foes.

The Pacers somehow pulled their best game out at the right time, beating Miami fairly handily 107-96 in game 1 of the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals.  Each of their starters scored in double digits with Roy Hibbert predictably dominant.  Not many people in the league enjoy playing Miami as much as Roy.  Indeed, Roy doesn’t really enjoy playing many other teams – see his struggles in round 1 against Atlanta and even in spells in round 2 against Washington.

This win was crucial for the Pacers.  Had they suffered a blowout first loss, as they did against the decent-but-not-Miami Washington Wizards, one suspects the self-doubt that marked their performances this postseason would have returned.  Instead, they bullied Miami, forced their way to the free throw line and when they were there, hit 29-37.  Miami only shot 15, hitting 10.  When LeBron James only shoots 2 free throws, you know Miami hasn’t been attacking and the reason they don’t attack is because of Roy Hibbert.

The free throw discrepancy may be pointed to as evidence of referee bias (how ironic that would be given the perception across basketball is that the Heat tend to get the rub of the green on marginal calls) but the three point discrepancy – Miami’s 26% to Indiana’s 42% told the real story.

Miami looked tired.  They looked pretty tired at points in the Brooklyn series and, added to the fact that they are playing the one team that seems to enjoy playing against them as much as any other, this is a very tough match up for them.  They should be tired.  This is their fourth consecutive trip deep into the post season.  If they make the finals it will be their fourth consecutive finals.  Teams don’t tend to do that these days.

Indiana were good value for their win in game 1, but expect Miami to come out in game 2 with a bit more fire.  In the Eastern conference finals last year it took a LeBron James triple double in overtime to sneak game 1 before Indiana won game 2.  The teams traded games through to game 7 when home court advantage finally told and Miami beat Indiana by 23.

Out west, the Oklahoma City Thunder will be deeply troubled by the loss of their third-best player Serge Ibaka.  The San Antonio Spurs were no easy match for them before, but now one has to wonder just how much Durant and Westbrook can give the team.  The dynamic pair are capable of winning games more or less on their own, but to beat this San Antonio side more than twice will be very tough.

My predictions: Miami in 6, San Antonio in 5 and San Antonio to beat the Heat in 6 in the finals.

The NBA before the All-Star Game: what do we know?

The NBA breaks this weekend for its annual All-Star game, a game which TCC was fortunate enough to attend last year in Houston.  The All-Star Game, while lacking in the intensity of some regular season games, does allow the best players to showcase their skills and, in some cases, network with their fellow players in a more cordial environment than the “heat of battle” of the regular season.

It also allows us pause for reflection of the first few months of the season and take stock of where we are, particularly looking ahead to the end of the season and the playoffs.  Here are a few of my own observations and thoughts about what has gone on over the past few weeks:

The East is AWFUL: The Eastern Conference is truly playing up to the old “Leastern Conference” moniker.  Four teams are over .500 at the moment: Miami, Atlanta, Toronto (!) and Indiana.  The Bulls and Wizards are only a game under .500 as well.  That means a team with a sub-.500 record will almost certainly get into the playoffs again, where they will likely get smashed by Indiana or Miami.  Milwaukee haven’t even won a tenth game yet.  They are over 30 games back but have only played 50.  Now a lot of teams have both eyes firmly on the upcoming draft class, with Joel Embiid now becoming a likely contender for the 1st overall pick – if he chooses to declare for the draft, which isn’t a given. Teams like New York, however, were not tanking for the 1st overall pick.  They just suck.  Brooklyn have improved somewhat in recent weeks, but the fact remains that they feature a bunch of guys over 30 years old and have a head coach who has no coaching experience.  Without Brook Lopez, it’s hard to see what will surely be Kevin Garnett’s last season ending in anything other than mediocrity.  The fact that Washington, who were so desperate they gave John Wall a max contract, are tied for 5th in the conference says everything.  Incidentally, keep an eye on Washington over the next couple of seasons.  In this sort of conference, they could become a playoff team very easily.

Indiana signing Bynum instals them as favorites: I can’t believe that Miami have seen enough from Greg Oden to make them think he gives them what they need so they have the best chance to beat the Pacers in the playoffs.  After he was unceremoniously dumped by the Cavaliers, I expected Andrew Bynum to be on his way to South Beach if for no other reason that to give the Heat a proper big man to battle Roy Hibbert, who tends to save his best performances against the relatively undersized Heat.  Their last meeting in mid December saw Hibbert in foul trouble and finish with 6 points and 2 rebounds.  With Hibbert out of the equation, the Heat will of course be contenders to beat Indiana in just about any given game, but they cannot expect him to be as ineffective for an entire series.  I seriously doubt that Oden is the guy to stop him, as heartening as it is to see him back playing and playing relatively well.  Unless Miami makes a move before the trade deadline, which I find hard to believe will happen, Indiana are strong favorites to win the East.  They have only lost 2 games at home so far this season.  Only OKC has a similar dominance in their own building.  And, of course, Miami.

The Heat might be coasting, but they are still playing very well: The third year of an attempted three-peat is notoriously tough on players.  The Heat were quite an old team last year, particularly guys like Shane Battier and Ray Allen. Dwyane Wade is not as old, but has serious issues with his knees that have limited him to 36 games out of a possible 49 so far this season.  How will he fare once the season extends to the playoffs?  LeBron has been more or less flat out, but that’s been true for a few seasons now.  The issue of his potential burnout must surely concern the Heat management.  He has, of course, shown no signs of this, but the possibility exists nonetheless.  Despite taking things relatively easy, the Heat are still the second best team in the East by ten games.  Unless something goes disastrously wrong, they should take the East’s 2 seed easily.  Their foes of last season, Chicago, are clearly in the process of rebuilding in the hope that Derrick Rose comes back stronger next season after another year of knee trouble.  That just leaves Indiana in their path towards a fourth consecutive finals appearance.

The Suns are playing out of their minds: There is no good reason for the Suns to be the sixth best team in the Western conference at the moment.  They have four first round picks for the upcoming draft and everyone thought they were going to play out this season and try to rebuild next year.  Instead, driven by the excellent Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe along with a cast of impressive role players, Jeff Hornacek’s team have been on a tear which saw them beat the heavily-fancied Indiana Pacers twice.  Whether or not they decide to trade away some of those picks for experienced players in bad situations (Pau Gasol has been mooted, Kevin Love is another name that makes sense for both parties) or if they keep them and go for a really young team next season remains to be seen but the Suns are fun again and it happened much quicker than anyone expected.

Kevin Durant is a really good basketball player: Paging Captain Obvious.  Captain Obvious to the lobby.  Look, KD has just claimed his 31st 30 point game of the season against the Knicks.  It was also his 7th 40 point game of the season.  He’s the top scorer in the NBA and he’s also the NBA’s best scorer.  It’s not even close.  Nothing he does looks forced.  Everything looks like a good shot.  Durant is probably the leading candidate for MVP and with his OKC Thunder sitting with the league’s best record without the now-long-departed James Harden and the currently injured Russell Westbrook, he is a deserving candidate.  Other guys have of course stepped up in Westbrook’s absence, but this is mostly about Durant.  He’s not the best player in the league, for my money, though.  The way LeBron makes his entire team better eclipses Durant who is more of a lead-by-example guy.  We shouldn’t get too bogged down in the LeBron vs Durant debate just yet, though.  Let’s just enjoy having these two incredible players in the prime at the same time.  As long as they remain in opposing conferences, we could be in for years of classic NBA finals.

Cleveland is a disaster: If you didn’t already read it, read this link.  Luol Deng, traded to Cleveland in a salary dump, has reportedly told a confidante (might want to rethink who you talk to in future, Lu) that the Cavaliers have serious, almost endemic, problems with professionalism throughout the organization.  In LeBron’s final season in Cleveland, the Cavs won 61 games.  They have only just won 61 games since LeBron left.  No names were named in the reports based on Deng’s comments, but it seems that Dion Waiters is a big problem.  No criticism was leveled at Kyrie Irving, the current franchise player, but if anyone is likely to be the one making demands that could challenge Coach Mike Brown’s authority from within the playing squad, it could only be Irving.  Reporters claim that when LeBron was in Cleveland, he was more or less allowed to do as he wished and it has been speculated that this institutional culture has persisted since LeBron’s departure.  I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that whatever LeBron decides to do this offseason, he is not going to re-sign for the Cavaliers.  Dan Gilbert has a lot of work to do to sort out this mess.  He should start by trading Anderson Varejao to a better team.

Andrew Wiggins is not going to be a stud in the NBA next season: Wiggins was much fancied as the number 1 overall a couple of months ago, but a series of indifferent performances at Kansas and the fact that his team-mate Joel Embiid has overtaken him as the predicted first overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft despite recent comments that he (Embiid) would consider playing at least another year in college to develop his game – Embiid has only played organised basketball for a couple of years – have dropped Wiggins’ chances of being an NBA stud next season to average.  He might well be a one-and-done, but Wiggins has proven to anyone who has seen him this season that at least one more year of college would be really good for him.  I already wrote about the issue of “one and done” players and the list of guys who did not work out at the professional level is extensive when compared to those that did.  Wiggins is not ready for the NBA and a couple of months won’t change that.  Jabari Parker and Julius Randle are probably ready and will probably enter the next draft – Randle almost definitely as no player worth his salt seems to want to stay at Kentucky for more than one season.  Charles Barkley recently spoke on sports radio and said that the NBA should change its rules to force players to stay in school for at least two years, which makes a lot of sense.  This sort of rule would protect talented players like Wiggins who lack the strength, both physical and mental, for the NBA challenge at such a young age.

The Lakers: Anyone see their 4 legal men beat Cleveland the other day?  Unreal.  Forty year old Steve Nash is working his way back after nerve issues ruled him out for the start of 2014.  Thousand year old Chris Kaman was asleep on the bench like a student during finals.  Ryan Kelly (remember that awkward but talented gunner for Duke last season?) has been one of LA’s best players in recent weeks.  They needed to invoke a practically unknown NBA rule to allow Robert Sacre to finish the Cleveland game despite having 6 fouls.  Kobe is due to come back from his “not as serious” knee injury soon, and lets face it, he probably will come back regardless of how good an idea it is.  Pau Gasol is injured and has been linked with a trade to Phoenix, but his injury will keep him out until after the trade deadline, so Phoenix will have no idea how ready to play he is if/when they do trade for him.  Things are a bit messy for the Lakers and the Clippers playing relatively well without Chris Paul doesn’t help.  They’ve written off the majority of their salary cap for next season to re-sign Kobe, so while they do have the money to make a run at an opt-out-free-agent like LeBron or Carmelo Anthony, they lack anything like the resources to put a decent team around Kobe and his new apprentice.  A couple of creative trades might be the only way out of this.  Dr Buss must be rolling in his grave.

Pacers top Heat with 3Q burst

The first meeting between the much vaunted Indiana Pacers and the champion Miami Heat took place last night in Indianapolis.

The Pacers brought a perfect 9-0 home record into the matchup, whereas the Heat were 7-3 on the road.  They were also missing Michael Beasley, the formerly (?) troubled star who has started to show signs of becoming the player Pat Riley thought he was when he was drafted behind Derrick Rose (ahead of Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, Brook Lopez and Roy Hibbert) in the 2008 NBA Draft.

LeBron finished 6-16 for 17 points and a monster 14 rebounds.  Bosh had 12 points and – ahem – three rebounds.  Wade also had 17 and the Heat got solid play off the bench from Birdman Chris Andersen.

The Pacers, meanwhile, were led by Hibbert’s 24, although he only had five rebounds, reflective perhaps of the Heat’s strategy to try and pull him away from the basket defensively.  Paul George and David West both had 17 and the increasingly impressive (how long ago does his dumb “choke” thing seem now?) Lance Stephenson who had a +/- of +13, the best of any player on either side.

The Heat started the game very quickly but were pegged back by Indiana after half time, the point when the Pacers are most dominant this season.

What does this game tell us about these two teams?  Well, maybe a lot, but maybe nothing.  The Pacers are clearly in full-on blitz mode for this season and are making a run at the title.  The signings of Luis Scola and Chris Copeland suggested as much and we shouldn’t forget that Danny Grainger is closing in on a return.  It is important, however, to remember that this was, for everything else, a regular season game.  The Heat didn’t play Udonis Haslem, who will clearly play more of a role in other major games this season.  They also didn’t have Greg Oden, who was signed with a view to countering the Hibbert problem.  As I’ve written before on these pages, if Oden can even slightly impede Hibbert, then he’ll have done more than any other Heat player to put them in a winning position.

The win left the Pacers 19-3 for the season.  The Heat “slip” to 16-6.  In the hopeless Eastern conference, where the third best team is Atlanta who currently sit 11-11 on .500, it’s still fairly safe to assume that the Heat will be fine.  They clearly have both eyes firmly on the prize – the title – and will just do what they have to to get through the regular season.  Dwyane Wade has been sitting out the second half of back-to-back games, a move that speaks to this long-game.  When the Bulls won their two three-peat titles (1993 and 1998), they ended up 57-25 and 62-20.  The latter would only be a four game drop for the Heat from last season, whereas it was a seven game drop for the Bulls (or ten if you look at their record breaking 1995-1996 season), but the East is considerably weaker with so many teams either “tanking” ahead of the strong upcoming NBA draft, or just utterly disastrous (looking at you, Brooklyn Nets!).  The Heat will be fine.

If all goes to plan and these two teams meet up in the Eastern Conference finals next year, we are in for a treat.

Will Michael Jordan Ever be Able to Improve one of the NBA’s Worst Franchises?

Hear the words “greatness” and “athlete” and who do you think of? For me, it is Michael Jordan, the former star of the Chicago Bulls. These days, he is a majority owner and head of basketball operations for the lowly Charlotte Bobcats, winners of 21 games during the 2012-2013 season. He has been with the organization since 2006.

Who could forget Jordan’s Hall-of-Fame-speech pronouncement that maybe someday he would decide to play the game again at 50 years old. If anyone would be crazy and competitive enough to do something like that, it would be Jordan. Well, last year it happened. Turning 50, that is. And of course, it sparked rumors, as crazy as they may have seemed, about a potential comeback. ESPN ran this fascinating piece, which claimed that Jordan can still hold his own in one-on-one match-ups against Bobcat players, but that the problem is recovering from it the next day. Ultimately, the comeback never happened.

Jordan still hooping at 50

So how easily transferable is greatness on the court to greatness in other areas, specifically, the front office? Well, it’s certainly not unprecedented. Larry Bird had some success with it in the Indiana Pacers‘ organization. Or how about Jerry West with the Los Angeles Lakers? But for whatever reasons, having Jordan around definitely hasn’t meant automatic (or even long-term) success for the Bobcats. Is there still hope?

The Bobcats have shown a little more fight in jumping out to a 5-6 start with wins against bigger-market teams like Boston and New York. The jury is still out on Indiana product and off-season lottery pick Cody Zeller, controversial decision in its own way, who is averaging just over five points and just under four rebounds in 17 minutes of work per contest.

Cody Zeller

In the early-going of the 2013-2014 season, the Bobcats have scored the basketball in a very balanced way, but they don’t seem to have much in the way of a single star who might be able to carry them to something as dreamlike as a playoff birth. Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, Ramon Sessions, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Jeff Taylor are all averaging double figures in scoring, with Josh McRoberts right under. Jefferson has played sparingly due to an ankle injury.

If you’re looking for a model for what the organization seems to be trying to do — create a deep nucleus of young talent — you might look to the Pacers rather than the Heat. Which is interesting, considering the magnitude of Jordan’s own talent and stardom during his heyday. It is probably too early in the rebuilding process to expect the playoffs, but being consistently more competitive would be a good goal. It is fair to take the “long view” here, but Jordan isn’t exactly new to his role, so patience is surely waning in Charlotte.

NBA 2013-2014: A Chicago Bulls’ Season Preview

What did they do last year?

Last year’s Chicago Bulls were a playoff team after a 45-37 regular season, good enough for second place (behind the Indiana Pacers) in the Central Division. They went on to win an exciting seven-game playoff series with the Brooklyn Nets before falling to the Miami Heat, 4-1, in the second round. Interestingly, the Bulls did take the first game from the Heat in that series.

What looks different about the team this year?

Most importantly, Rose is in uniform and on the floor. In order for this team to become a serious contender, the Bulls will need Rose to be no less than his old self. Nate Robinson, who played well as basically a one-year rental at point guard, departed for the Denver Nuggets.

The Rose Update

Much has been said about Rose’s decision — a year after tearing his ACL — not to play in last years’ playoffs. Regardless, Rose is back and averaging just under 15 points and 5 assists per game. Expect those numbers to go up throughout the season as he regains form. One concern is that Rose sustained a minor hamstring injury in a recent win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, so that’s definitely something to keep on an eye on.

A rough start

The Bulls have only won half of their first six contests, with losses coming at the hands of the Heat, Philadelphia 76ers, and Pacers. They have struggled to put up points in the early going. This is not the kind of start they wanted, but it’s definitely not time to panic, as they spent a whole season trying to figure out how to play without Rose, but now they have to adjust back to his style of play. Head Coach Tom Thibodeau usually has the Bulls playing their basketball by playoff time, so I wouldn’t expect anything different this year.

Projections

As they proved last year, the Bulls are not a one-man show. Carlos Boozer, Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler, Luol Deng, and Joakim Noah add a flavor of toughness to Rose’s finesse. Assuming Rose stays healthy, expect the Bulls to challenge the Pacers for the division and finish no lower than second place with a playoff birth to boot. We’ll have to wait and see whether or not they can seriously challenge the Pacers or the Heat in the playoffs.

NBA 2013-2014: an Indiana Pacers Season Preview

What did they do last year?

Last year, the Frank Vogel’s Indiana Pacers’ played without star shooter Danny Granger and still won 49 games, good enough to win the Central Division of the Eastern Conference. Paul George (17.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 4.1 apg, 1.8 spg)  proved to be one of, if not the, premier young star in the game. In the Playoffs, the Pacers beat the Atlanta Hawks and New York Knicks before giving the Miami Heat everything they could handle in the Eastern Conference Finals.

What looks different about the team this year? 

The Pacers did not sit around in the off-season and twiddle their thumbs. They knew they had to get better, and they did, at least on paper. Like every team, they lost a few guys, most notably Tyler Hansborough and Gerald Green. But in their and other players’ places, they have added much-needed depth on the bench. Most notably, Luis Scola (12.8 ppg and 6.6 rpg last season for the Phoenix Suns), Chris Copeland (8.7 ppg last year for the New York Knicks), and C.J. Watson (6.8 ppg and 2 apg last season for the Brooklyn Nets) should improve the Pacers competitiveness when starters need a breather.

The Pacers bigs

The Danny Granger update

Unfortunately, the Pacers will have to wait just a little while longer to have their sharpshooter on the floor again. He will miss the first three weeks or so of the season with a minor calf-injury. During the 2011-2012 season, the 6-9 small forward averaged 18.7 points per game on 38% shooting from 3-point range, to go along with five rebounds a contest. He will not need to return to that much production, but even a version of his former self could help the Pacers in 2013-2014.

So far, so good 

The Pacers have jumped out to a 5-0 start with wins over the Orlando Magic, the New Orleans Pelicans, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Detroit Pistons and the Chicago Bulls. For most of those games, the Pacers have played without Granger and starting point guard, George Hill. George is averaging 27 points and almost 9 rebounds during those games.

Projections 

The Miami Heat have eliminated the Pacers from the Playoffs in each of the last two seasons, including last year’s seven-game thriller. Call me crazy or optimistic, but this is the year the Pacers do it. Not win it all, necessarily, but win a playoff series against the Miami Heat and get to the NBA Finals. Of course, before all that, they will have to fend off a very good divisional team in the Chicago Bulls, who will have Derrick Rose back on the floor.

NBA: Game on

The first games are in the book and all went as predicted.  The Miami Heat lost after a failing to get past the “curse of the ring night” and Derrick Rose’s comeback was spectacular, the LA Clippers cemented their status as legitimate contenders whilst seeing off their long-since-past-it city rivals and the Indiana Pacers had a comfortable win over the Orlando Magic.

Well, as a famous singer almost once said, one out of three aint bad.

The Heat, while indeed starting a little slowly (after Mario Chalmers reminded Derrick Rose that you need to protect the basketball, picking his pocket and feeding Udonis Haslem for the slam) they quickly picked up and ended the half 21 points to the good.  They managed to hold off a Bulls comeback in the fourth, led by the impressive-but-can-he-do-it-when-it-really-counts Carlos Boozer who had 31 and were fairly comfortable in their 12 point win.  Miami were led by LeBron’s 17 points, but only Udonis Haslem and Chris Andersen, of the players who played, failed to score double digits.  Particularly impressive was Shane Battier who went 4-4 from the arc.

Welcome back Derrick. His knee is fine…his ankles…

The Bulls problems were evident throughout – they lack consistent wing scoring.  Rose was actually pretty good in his first game in well over a year and his turnovers – five in this game – will drop as he finds his rhythm.  Jimmy Butler and Luol Deng both got in foul trouble early, which meant that LeBron’s two major opponents had to sit for long spells of the first half.  Tony Snell is not quite up to the job, at least not yet.  I like the look of the Bulls, but they will go as Deng and Butler go.  If these two can offer scoring from the wings, then they could well go all the way.  The problem is that that is not particularly likely, as much as it pains me to say given how much I love Deng.

Roy defends Vucevic

The first game of the night, albeit the one that had its thunder stolen by events in South Florida, was in Indiana as the much vaunted Pacers took on the Magic.  They started strongly, but Andrew Nicholson – so polite when TCC met him at the All Star Game earlier this year, even though we clearly had no idea who he was – kept Orlando in the game with a total of 18 points.  Indiana came out strong in the third quarter and eventually put the Magic away, but will be worried by the sight of Roy Hibbert’s knee seeming to buckle in the fourth quarter.  Hibbert later tweeted that he was ok and ready to play again today.  His 7 – yes SEVEN – blocked shots in the game prior to his injury showed exactly what he will bring to the table this season.

For Orlando, Victor Oladipo was solid in his NBA debut, but there wasn’t a whole lot else to write home about other than Nicholson.  He will surely unseat Jason Maxiell as the starting power forward for this team going forward.  The major objective for Orlando this season will be the development of Oladipo: can he be an NBA caliber point guard?  He doesn’t look tall enough to get away with significant minutes at the 2 in the NBA and the Magic already have Arron Afflalo in that position.

Gasol vs Griffin

The final game of the night was the Los Angeles “derby” (I don’t think they use this expression, but I like it).  The Clippers were BLOWN AWAY by the Lakers bench.  The list reads like a who’s who of NBA rejects:

Chris Kaman – 10 points.  Jordan Hill – 12 points.  Jordan Farmar – 16 points.  Jodie Meeks – 13 points. XAVIER HENRY (remember him?) – 22 freaking points.  Unreal.

The Clippers played fine, getting double-doubles from DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul, but again their deficiencies, hangovers from last season, were all too obvious.  Jordan is incredibly athletic but incredibly limited.  If it’s not a dunk or a block, you can’t really rely on him for anything.  The Lakers guards, particularly the savvier ones, went straight at him on pick and rolls.  He ended up with five fouls.  Griffin, for all that he is another fan favourite and a spectacular player, is also limited.  He doesn’t offer enough defensively to be an elite player.

Of course, it’s only one game.  Eighty-one to go!