The Pacers head into week 2 of the regular season with a somewhat disappointing 1-2 record. After a thrilling overtime victory against the Dallas Mavericks on opening night, Indiana dropped two straight road games to the hapless Brooklyn Nets and the surprising Chicago Bulls. Larry Bird's Quest to Score More PointsTM has yielded 108.3 points per game, which is 3.3 points higher than his intended target. The biggest problem so far has been defense, as the Pacers have given up 117 points per game so far, tied for fourth-worst in the league. With two full days off to rest, Indiana returns to the cozy confines of Bankers Life Fieldhouse for 7 out of their next 10 games.
Los Angeles Lakers
Tuesday, 1 November 2016 at 07:00 PM ET Home
The first matchup of the week features the young and hungry Los Angeles Lakers, currently at 1-2 to start the year. With Kobe Bryant no longer around to jack up 30 shots a night, LA is set to begin the youth movement behind their young stars D'Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, and Julius Randle. Despite scoring "only" 104.5 points per game in those contests, the Lakers have distributed their scoring very well across the roster so far, with six players averaging at least 10 points, and three averaging 14.5 each. In addition to retaining sixth-man extraordinaire Lou Williams, the Lakers also signed veteran swingman Luol Deng and overpriced center and possible ex-KGB Timofey Mozgov.
One of the three top scorers for Los Angeles has been the second-year point guard Russell, who finally has been given the keys to the offense after being marooned by Byron Scott for much of last season. Russell's speed and playmaking abilities will test Jeff Teague most of the night after the Pacers' point guard has already had to deal with chasing Jeremy Lin and Rajon Rondo in back to back games. Fortunately, Russell continues to struggle to find his shot, only hitting 33% of his field goals to start the year. The other member of LA's backcourt, Jordan Clarkson, is also one of the three leading scorers for the team, and he has been making his shots at a much more efficient 47.6% clip. He'll likely draw Monta Ellis for the night. The battle of the two backcourts will probably be the key to the game because there isn't any way the Lakers' frontcourt will outperform Indiana's.
Indiana trots out one of the best frontcourt duos in the league in Paul George and Myles Turner. While LA's Deng has earned his reputation as a great perimeter defender, he'll have his hands full trailing George. George is currently in the top 20 for scoring in the NBA at 22.3 points per game, so far has a career-best 47.9% field goal percentage. Inside, Turner is not far behind at 25th with 21 points, and his 61.9% field goal percentage is also just outside the top 10 in the league. He'll be shadowed by Mozgov, who simply hasn't been the same player since his knee surgery a year ago. Turner's ability to stretch the floor can gas the Lakers' frontcourt, and Indiana should look to exploit these mismatches whenever possible.
Thursday, 3 November 2016 at 08:00 PM ET Away
Indiana's second division test of the year comes in Milwaukee against the Bucks. Milwaukee has had a similarly tough start to the year, going 1-2 with their only win against Brooklyn. The Bucks continue to play without last season's top scorer Khris Middleton, who is recovering from surgery to repair a ruptured hamstring muscle. So far, they have relied on their do-it-all, Mr. Fantastic-esque small forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has averaged 23 points through Milwaukee's first three games. He and Paul George will undoubtedly be the highlight matchup in this game. Antetokounmpo is capable of scoring from anywhere on the floor, showing off his improved three-point shot to go along with his terrific finishing ability.
Thaddeus young will have his hands full with Milwaukee's second-leading scorer Jabari Parker. Young has played admirably in the first three games, particularly in the season opener, when he played about as well as one can against the virtually un-guardable Dirk Nowitzki. Paker does not possess the range that some of Young's assignments have had so far this year, so look for a lot of work in the post when the Bucks work in the halfcourt.
Outside of Antetokounmpo and backup guard Rashad Vaughn, no one on the Bucks has yet to make a big impact from the three-point line so far with Middleton gone. Milwaukee is shooting a dreadful 28.9% from distance, so look for the Paces to clamp down on the perimeter early and force the Bucks' offense right into Myles Turner in the paint. Turner's shooting ability will again test the limits of his opposing center, as Greg Monroe doesn't necessarily have the speed to guard on the perimeter.
Saturday, 5 November 2016 at 07:00 PM ET Home
There's no other way around it: the Pacers got absolutely embarrassed in Chicago on Saturday night, trailing by 20+ points for most of the second half before a futile garbage time rally brought the deficit back to 17. Point guard Rajon Rondo carved up the Pacers' defense, racking up 13 of the Bulls' 34 total assists on the night. Defensively, he also made life miserable for Jeff Teague, who was held scoreless on the night. Paul George and Myles Turner both played relatively well offensively, but were benched at 27 minutes apiece once the game was out of reach in the second half.
A balanced scoring night from the starters was reinforced by a 23 point effort by Doug McDermott, but the true story for Chicago's scoring was in the transition game. Half of the Bulls' 38 points in the second quarter came in transition, which essentially dug the Pacers into too large of a hole for them to climb out. Perhaps it was simply tired legs playing on a back to back, but that sort of lazy defense is unacceptable when playing against a veteran team like Chicago.
This might be the game where the Pacers put the Quest for More PointsTM on hold. Slowing the game down will prevent transition opportunities for the Bulls, which will keep the game in a more reasonable range. With George and Turner playing so well in Saturday's game, I have to imagine that they will be the primary focal points on offense to set the tone early. Pacers' head coach Nate McMillan might also look to shuffle the rotations so that George can play against McDermott defensively at some points. The Pacers must find a way to perform better defensively overall, or this could be a repeat performance on their own court.