Dec. 2010: Caught in the Web Indiana Pacers blog by Conrad Brunner

Infusion of George might be the cure for what ails Pacers

Dec. 31, 2010

You couldn't blame Paul George for appearing somewhat disoriented when he walked onto the court with 3:06 left in the first quarter Friday.

It was, after all, the first time in more than six weeks he had played in the opening period.

“I didn’t have any idea that my number would be called that early in the game," George said.

He was more ready for his moment in the second half, however, giving the Pacers a desperately needed lift in their 95-86 victory over Washington. The Wizards were trying to make a game of it and had closed to 59-47 on a 3-pointer by Rashard Lewis.

But then George took over. First came a sweet up-and-under move in the lane for a tough bucket. Then he stole John Wall's pass and went the distance, converting a three-point play. Then came the highlight reel moment, when he plucked another steal and broke free in the open court, finishing with a windmill jam that brought his teammates off the bench and the crowd to its feet.

And, by the way, it also put the Pacers up 69-49 and they'd lead by double digits until the closing seconds.

The box score told an impressive tale: 18 minutes, 13 points, seven rebounds, five steals, 5-of-8 shooting.

Jim O'Brien revealed after the game this was no token appearance for the No. 10 pick. The coach is altering the rotation to make room for four wings, meaning more time at power forward for Danny Granger, opening opportunity for George.

The reason for the change?

"Our anemic offense," said O'Brien.

If Friday's game was any indicator, George might just be the cure for what ails.

Playoffs might be not be that hard to miss, after all

Dec. 30, 2010

I have to admit, I've been laboring under a misperception:

That, thanks to a dearth of competitors around them, it would be difficult for the Pacers to miss the playoffs this season.

Turns it, it might not be that hard at all.

Even as the Pacers have slogged through December, there has been solace in the standings. They've lost seven of nine, but have not dropped a single slot in the Eastern Conference. There they are today, still in seventh.

And yet Wednesday's loss in Washington was an eye-opener. Not just because the worst team in the East shot less than 40 percent at home and still beat the Pacers handily. But because the talent gap between the Pacers and the worst team in the East is negligible.

Take a look at the Wizards' top eight: John Wall, Nick Young, Josh Howard, Rashard Lewis, Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee and Kirk Hinrch.

Compare that to Darren Collison, Mike Dunleavy, Danny Granger, Josh McRoberts, Roy Hibbert, Brandon Rush, T.J. Ford and Solomon Jones.

See much of a disparity there?

Me neither.

The point being: the Pacers may feel relatively comfortable in their status as a playoff contender, but maybe they shouldn't. Maybe they should start to comprehend that the Bucks, Sixers, Bobcats – and yes, the Wizards -- have enough weapons to climb past them.

Just six games separate seventh from 15th in the East. Philadelphia and Milwaukee are one game behind the Pacers, Charlotte two.

What was a solid playoff position entering December has eroded considerably.

If the Pacers are looking around for reasons to start approaching each game with a heightened sense of urgency, maybe they should do what I did, and take a long look at the standings.

Shared experience for O'Neal, Daniels in Boston

Dec. 28, 2010

Doc Rivers admits he’s hard on Jermaine O’Neal about accepting his new status as a role-player, and he’s equally tough on Marquis Daniels about maintaining a consistent focus.

So does that mean Boston is not necessarily nirvana for the two ex-Pacers?

“It’s nirvana,” said the Celtics’ head coach, “if you want to win.”

Therein lies the primary reason both players wound up in Boston.

O’Neal, now, 32, signed with the Celtics after a season-and-a-half in Miami, in part as a stopgap until regular starting center Kendrick Perkins recovers from surgery on his right knee.

But he’s had his own issues with a sore left knee that has limited him to just eight games. He recently returned to action after missing more than six weeks, and so now can get on with adjusting from centerpiece to accessory.

Adjusting to role-player status a challenge for J.O.

“Jermaine is a role player and he’s never been that so we’re hard on him about that,” said Rivers. “He wants to accept that role but he’s never done it. He’s not used to not getting the ball. I told him ‘I could care less if you ever take a shot. Your job here is to block shots, take charges and be a defensive player and if you’re willing to buy into that job you can help us do something special. If you’re not willing to buy into that job then you don’t help us.’

“We’ve got enough scoring. The first thing for him is to get healthy and the second thing is to get used to that role.”

Though he knew the deal when he signed with the Celtics, O’Neal won’t pretend it’s been a challenging adjustment.

“All my life since little league I’ve been asked to score,” he said. “It’s a lot different here because we don’t necessarily need scoring from me. We need more of a defensive presence, rebounding, control the paint while I’m in there, help set the tempo defensively.

“It is probably the biggest challenge I’ve had, to be honest, and it’s a work in progress. We have a great team, I knew what the task was before I signed and I’m comfortable with it.”

As he ponders the final seasons of his career, O’Neal has admitted he’d like the opportunity to retire as a member of the Pacers. His name dots the franchise record book, ranking fifth in scoring average (18.6) and points (9,580), first in blocked shots (1,245), and third in rebound average (9.6).

“It’s no more than right to do it in the place where I have so many memories, where so much happened to me, where I have so many relationships,” O’Neal said. “You just feel a part.

“I went out to dinner yesterday and went over to my house and in my neighborhood, the people, it was almost like I didn’t leave. That’s the relationship I feel I have with the city. Obviously things didn’t end the way we wanted them to end, as far as reaching our ultimate goal but it was a new start that I feel like both parties needed.”

Healthy Daniels a fixture with Celtics' second unit

Daniels battled injury problems last season but has played every game this year, averaging 19.5 minutes, 5.2 points and 2.4 rebounds. Much more used to playing a background role, Daniels has fit in well with the Boston second unit.

“We get on ‘Quise about maintaining focus every night,” said Rivers. “He tends to go up and down and that’s what he’s done throughout his career and we’re hard on him here about that because a bad game for us because of lack of focus could cost us a playoff position.”

Daniels averaged 9.6 points in 173 games with the Pacers from 2006-09, signing with the Celtics prior to the 2009-10 season.

“There’s a lot of guys here that are going to be future Hall of Famers and that’s a blessing in itself to be able to say you played with guys like that – Paul (Pierce), Ray (Allen), K.G. (Kevin Garnett), Shaq (Shaquille O’Neal), Jermaine, (Rajon) Rondo, those guys – so it’s a good situation but I had some great teammates (in Indiana), as well.

“It’s part of our situation, the things we’ve got going. It’s a bigger picture. You’ve got to buy into the system. Sometimes you’ve got to take a step back to move forward, take less minutes, less money to try to win a championship.”

Impressed by Pacers' improvement

The current Pacers have captured the Celtics’ attention. Rivers likes the improved defense and increased reflection of Coach Jim O’Brien’s personality.

“They’re so much better,” Rivers said. “Jimmy has them playing hard, they’re executing offensively. Defensively is where they made their biggest change and you can see it. They’re a good, hard-nosed defensive team now. They went in that one stretch a couple of years ago where they were almost trying to outscore guys and now to me they’re more like Jimmy again and you can see that on the floor in the way they play.

“And, quite honestly, they’re healthy for the most part. They’ve had a three-year stretch where you can’t have as many injuries as they’ve had so he has a chance to actually coach his team for the first time in awhile.”

Daniels is impressed by the burgeoning collection of young talent surrounding Danny Granger.

“Coach O’Brien has them playing hard and the talent level is there,” he said. “Danny is improving every day, Brandon (Rush)’s playing better, (James) Posey’s a great addition for them as well as (Darren) Collison. All those guys, they’re doing real good.”

O’Neal admits a more distant view of the Pacers but what he has seen, he has liked.

“I see that they’ve evolved and become a team with a lot of nice young pieces that they keep adding every year, so they’re going in that direction,” he said. “Have they totally gotten there? I’m not sure because I’m not there every day but it looks that way from the outside looking in.”

Lockers side by side on the home and the road, and not just because they were jersey numbers 7 and 8, O’Neal and Daniels share more in Boston than their past with the Pacers.

They are on a quest to join the brotherhood of the ring.

A good problem is still a problem at PF

Dec. 27, 2010

(From L) McRoberts, Posey, Foster, Hansbrough (NBAE/Getty Images)
To borrow one of Mark Boyle's favorite words, Jim O'Brien has something of a conundrum at power forward.

Josh McRoberts has started 26 games and played reasonably well (6.5 points, 5.5 rebounds in 22 minutes) but, like every other starter, has tapered off in December. This has opened the door to a plethora of options off the bench, with two salty veterans (Jeff Foster and James Posey) and a peppery young guy (Tyler Hansbrough).

The thing is, there are only 48 minutes available a night and everybody can't play. Or can they?

"I have a little bit of a challenge in my mind at our power forward spot," O'Brien said recently. "It's like power forward by committee. … You can't play all four guys every game at power forward because I don't think you could get into any kind of rhythm. I haven't figured it out yet, in all truthfulness."

Sunday's loss to Memphis was clear evidence of the challenge. McRoberts started, but played less than 8 minutes and didn't return. Posey and Foster played 18 minutes each and Hansbrough 9.

The problem was Zach Randolph, who long has tortured the Pacers with his bulk in the post and his ability to step out and hit the mid-range jumper, and there really was no solution (though Foster defended him well).

You sense a change is coming but it's hard to predict.

McRoberts gives the Pacers athleticism and energy. Foster is a proven defender and rebounder. Posey spaces the floor and defends the smaller power forwards very well. In the meantime Hansbrough, who might very well represent the future of the position, finds little time in the present.

It's still relatively early, just past the one-third mark of the season, but it's clear something has to give. Too many players, not enough minutes. Coaches often like to say it's a good problem to have, but that doesn't change the reality that it is a problem.

Finally, Dunleavy gets noticed

Dec. 23, 2010

Funny, what Mike Dunleavy has to do to get noticed.

His game-winning, buzzer-beating, heart-stopping tip-in to beat the Hornets Monday night took him out of the background and into the spotlight, and he frankly seemed kind of comfortable, running the length of the court with his No. 1 signal high in the air, smiling broadly when tackled by Danny Granger, and then pumping his first mightily before raising both arms when the officials' replay review confirmed the moment.

For Dunleavy, it was ironic to be the center of attention after what he deemed an otherwise "terrible" performance (eight points on 3-of-11 shooting, four assists, three rebounds, two steals) but his overall productivity this season has been quietly strong.

"The thing that we rarely talk about is Mike Dunleavy," said Coach Jim O'Brien, "and Mike Dunleavy is having a really, really strong year."

Playing pain-free for the first time since high school, finally back to full strength after major surgery in March 2009, Dunleavy has been an island of consistency. He's fifth on the team in scoring (12.2), second in rebounding (5.7), third in 3-pointers made and attempted (44-of-122) – and fourth in blocked shots (18).

I asked Mike what he thought about his game this year and he used the word "solid." He's not happy with his shooting percentage (.450) but is generally pleased with his overall game. Always a solid and versatile player on offense, the more mobile and agile Dunleavy has become more effective as a defender, as well. O'Brien said the team's best defensive combinations at the wing include Dunleavy.

"He doesn't make mistakes defensively. He does exactly what you want offensively," said O'Brien. "He's got a good assist-turnover ratio, he's a good rebounder, he's a good communicator. He's overlooked, I think, by all of his, starting with me. I think he's having a great year."

Because he's one of the older players (30) on a very young roster and in the final season of his contract, Dunleavy also is frequently overlooked in discussions of the team's future, but O'Brien considers him "100 percent, absolutely" part of the Pacers' core group of players. He recently said he "desperately" wants Dunleavy to be a part of the team's future.

Indiana has been good for Dunleavy's career, and he knows it. He said he'd like to stay but isn't really getting into that discussion yet because he's remaining focused on the season and his quest for a first playoff berth.

"No doubt about it," Dunleavy said, "I love being here."

Safe to say after Monday night, the feeling is more mutual than ever.

Comment on Bruno's blog in the Pacers Fan Forum