At first I was going to call this game "The Return of Mike Dunleavy". But he comes off the bench now and, quite frankly, there's not much to write about. There's an article by the Indy Star about how he hasn't been to the playoffs yet, but there's nothing juicy in it (see Indy Cornrows preview for the link).
I've only seen the Pacers play against the Heat early in the season (an eye-opening win), glimpses of the Lakers game (another huge win for them), and most of the loss the other day to the Clippers (got beasted by Blake Griffin). Based on my observations, this team is actually pretty good, pretty well-coached, but for whatever reason -- kind of like the Rockets -- just has a record which indicates they are struggling.
I'm not sure one can get further under the radar than this Pacers-Warriors matchup which will be viewed by no one outside the Bay Area and Indianapolis metros, but Dorell Wright going mano-y-mano against Danny Granger has got to be something Dorell's pumped up about. This could be a game that gives Dorell that stamp of approval, if he hasn't already caught the attention of NBA observers yet.
Let me share with you what I know about the Pacers, which might not be too much in the grand scheme of things.
- Point guard: Darren Collison vs Stephen Curry - Collison is lightning quick and explosive. He's really small though, smaller than even Steph. It may be difficult for Steph to keep Collison in front of him. Collison had 17 points in the first quarter against the Clippers the other night. Off the bench, the Pacers stay diminutive with the capable TJ Ford.
- Shooting guard: Brandon Rush vs Monta Ellis - Don't be surprised if Rush has flashes of a little, oh, J.R. Smith, let's say. He's actually a very, very good player and has a bit bigger frame for a 2-guard (hence the reference to JR Swish). Now, there's no way he can stay in front of Monta, but on the other end, Rush may post up on Monta. Off the bench, the Pacers have rookie Paul George. George doesn't do anything that eye-opening, but he doesn't make a lot of mistakes at the same time.
- Small forward: Danny Granger vs Dorell Wright - I wouldn't be surprised if Coach Keith Smart is secretly thinking that Granger is what Dorell's ceiling could be. With Granger, you get a clutch shooter -- although he will have his once-in-a-blue-moon mental lapses (airball or something) -- and just a guy who makes the right play without a lot of pizazz. The play that summed him up best in the Clippers loss was when he had a fastbreak and pulled up at the free throw elbow for a little easy jumper. That's textbook right there. He's a very efficient player who can get hot at anytime. He's versatile and can attack the rim. So, he sounds like the composed, controlled version of the up-and-coming Dorell Wright. That's why I'm really looking forward to this matchup. Off the bench, the Pacers bring in Mike Dunleavy and James Posey, who have been solid contributors. They are the deepest at this position.
- Power forward: Tyler Hansbrough vs David Lee - I'm not sure when Hansbrough started to get the nod here, but I suppose he's been playing better than fellow hustling rebounders Solomon Jones and Jeff Foster. I could've sworn from the Heat and Laker games that "Solo" had a better offensive game than the limited moves of the rather duplicative Hansbrough and less-muscled Foster, so I don't know. D.Lee should definitely win this battle. This may also be an opportunity for Ekpe Udoh to show some flashes.
- Center: Roy Hibbert vs Andris Biedrins - After the Heat and Laker performances, I was calling for Hibbert as Most Improved Player, but I don't know what happened since then. Maybe he's just been inconsistent. I think it falls under the NBA's "adjustments" category. He busts out, defenses then analyze the tape, and he hasn't been able to answer to those adjustments. He has a nice touch from outside and is (was?) fearless with his moves to the hoop. He has the same body type as AB, though, so maybe the scouting report was to just be more physical with him, something the Warriors might have trouble with. Should be an interesting matchup here, too. Off the bench, they used to have the energetic Josh McRoberts, but I guess he might be in the doghouse?
- System/Coaching: Jim O'Brien vs Keith Smart - The Pacers used to run a double high-post which would end up with Hibbert slipping for a layup, with Collison handling the ball and Granger as a threat at the elbow. They ran circles around the discombobulated new Heat team early in the season, something I wasn't surprised by as I've seen teams with selfish players running a system defeat collections of more talented and athletic players all the time in the rec league that I run. I'm not sure if defenses have adjusted to that, though. As for the Warriors, I'm not sure if they're running anything more than a simple high pick & roll, nor do I think they have the X's & O's coach for that nor the patient players. I therefore give the nod to the Pacers in this department. If the Pacers stay deliberate in their approach and keep their turnovers to a minimum, while at the same time Rush is containing Monta, and assuming Granger has a typical Granger game, then the Warriors might be in for a surprise. Curiously, in the Clippers game, the Pacers seemed to be running a version of "six seconds or less", which isn't what I saw against the Heat or the Lakers, but I could be wrong. They are certainly less effective with that when Hibbert is on the floor. Look for a little bit of that when the "unconscious" Dunleavy (he sometimes can get into quick-trigger mode) and the sneaky Posey get onto the floor.
- Notes: We're the halfway point of the season. Both teams have similar records. The Warriors have momentum going into this one. It's important to keep it going and rack up some more wins against beatable teams. The Pacers come into town reeling from the Clippers loss in LA. They are similarly rested and must focus attention on how to stop Monta, who has been racking up the stats lately.
- Trivia: I'm just amazed that Foster is still only one of five players who have stayed on the same team for more than a decade, their entire careers. Helluva starting five, no? (insert Kobe at pg jokes here, also did you know it used to be Zydrunas Ilgauskas as the legit #5 below)...
- Kobe Bryant
- Paul Pierce
- Dirk Nowitzki
- Tim Duncan
- Jeff Foster