Paul George a "Beast"
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Taking Stock: George, Augustin, Granger, Schedule

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

January 3, 2012, 12:51 AM

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George is a 22-year-old “Beast”

The fundamental rule of journalism is that any information confirmed by two sources is safe to report. Therefore, we can officially pronounce Paul George to be a “beast.”

Pacers coach Frank Vogel said so after Wednesday's 89-81 victory over Washington, and so did Wizards center Emeka Okafor.

“Paul George is becoming a beast of a player on both ends of the court,” Vogel said after George scored 29 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and turned in another sterling defensive effort. “Just flat-out becoming a beast of a player.”

Said Okafor, from the Wizards locker room: “He had a beast of a game. Everything he was putting up was going in and he showed great effort on the boards.”

Such games are becoming routine for George who has produced six double-doubles this season, four in the last eight games, and has scored in double figures in 15 straight. The offensive production, however, tends to overshadow his defense. George always takes the opponent's best wing scorer, and more often than not excels there as well.

The Pacers have rarely had as good a two-way player. Ron Artest was for one season (2003-04) when he was voted Defensive Player of the Year and averaged 18.3 points. Jermaine O'Neal also was capable of dominating both ends in his early seasons with the Pacers. George leads the team with 47 steals, well ahead of second-place George Hill (30), and also has been its best three-point shooter much of the season. He's currently hitting .387 from the arc, one miss behind Lance Stephenson (.390).

He's getting to like the idea of doing it all.

“One thing I've struggled with is guarding guys and being able to score,” he said. “But now I feel I have the legs to do it on both ends. So the defense is what I'm keyed on.”

Of all the positive numbers George can put on his resume, here's the one Pacers' fans should appreciate most: He's 22 years old. In many ways, he's just catching on to this NBA thing.

“I'm able to pick and choose when to be aggressive, when to look for teammates, when to be a playmaker, when to score,” he said. “It just seems the game is starting to come to me.”

So, if a player is a beast at 22, what does he become at 30?

The Pacers will be eager to find out. But it will cost them.

Granger's Coming Return

With George's ongoing emergence headed for a collision with Danny Granger's return, the question of how they'll interact becomes all the more relevant. Granger led the Pacers' scoring the past five seasons. David West is the current leader (17.2) but George could very well be the leader by the time Granger returns.

Can they co-exist? Granger has yet to speak with the media since his surgery on Nov. 7, but George and Vogel are optimistic.

“When I went through my slump, Danny was the first one to coach me through it,” George said. “I know he knows, when he comes back, we have a chance to do something special.”

Vogel sees George providing a crutch for Granger as he re-acclimates himself to the lineup.

“It's going to take pressure off Danny when he first comes back,” Vogel said. “We have other guys who are creating offense for themselves and teammates, so when Danny comes back it's going to be the type of deal where he can allow his teammates … to set him up the first week or two. When you get five guys who can create offense or score the ball like we will when Danny comes back, with the way we'll be able to defend, we have a chance to be special.”

Pacers' Schedule Gets Tougher Now

It also gets easier.

They play at Boston on Friday. The Celtics have a losing record, but the Pacers have lost eight of their last nine games there. The Pacers then have home games with Milwaukee, Miami and New York – all playoff teams. Given their 3-10 record against teams currently in the playoff picture, it figures to be a revealing stretch.

“It's going to be an exciting test the next few games,” Vogel said.

While the remaining part of the schedule contains a higher degree of difficulty, it's balanced by favorable geography. Of the Pacers' remaining 50 games, 27 are at home.

Starting Agrees with D.J. Augustin.

He scored a season-high 17 points in his first start against Memphis on Monday, and had 18 on Wednesday, when starting point guard George Hill sat out a second straight game with a bruised thigh. Augustin's point total was boosted by late free throws, when Washington had to foul – six in the final 1:11 – but it erased the memory of his slow start to the season, which led to him being bench for five games.

Augustin had made it clear he struggled off the bench earlier because he wasn't accustomed to playing in short bursts after starting in Charlotte the past two seasons.

“I'm feeling comfortable right now,” he said. “When you're playing less minutes it's harder, but … hopefully it works out. I'm just going to keep playing hard.”

These past two games could be seen as a turning point at season's end. Augustin's production could convince Vogel to play him in longer stretches off the bench, which would boost Augustin's confidence and ease the burden on Hill's legs.

Good Starts Are Important?

The next time you hear an analyst talk about the importance of an NBA team getting off to a good start, feel free to laugh.

The Pacers proved once again the folly of that cliché. Usually, teams that take a quick double-figure lead give most or all of it back, and often lose. The Pacers won a game in New Orleans on Dec. 22 after falling behind by 22 points late in the first half. Wednesday, they jumped to an 8-0 lead and led by 17 on George's three-pointer with 5:49 left.

The Wizards, however, were within three points midway through the third quarter, and had the ball with a chance to get closer.

“That can be the worst thing for a team,” George said. “It does relax you. You think you've got the game won. You think you can't do no wrong. They come back and now you're talking a close game.

“It's easier to play from behind. You know you have to go all out.”

Sounds like a plan. Let's see which coach has the courage to tell his team to get off to a bad start, to help the players focus.

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