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Pacers Not Yet a Work of Art

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

October 16, 2013

These are the kind of games where you walk into the locker room afterward with little clue about what to write. A preseason game with four starters sitting out? After they had sacrificed their body clocks to spread the NBA's gospel of basketball and commerce halfway around the world?

What could it possibly mean?

The Pacers' 92-85 loss to Dallas at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Wednesday dropped their preseason record to 0-4. This being the preseason, nobody is claiming concern. Fans who watched the way they finished last season must be wondering what's going on, although those who remember the Colts' disregard for winning preseason games during the Peyton Manning era might spot a silver lining. They might even be pulling for 0-8.

GAME REWIND: Pacers 85, Mavericks 92

Seeing Dallas coach Rick Carlisle working the sideline during such a ragged game reminded me of one of his more memorable quotes while coaching the Pacers. He once compared a sloppy regular season victory over Milwaukee to a Jackson Pollock painting, a reference he's pulled out a time or two for the Dallas writers as well. Pollock was an abstract impressionist painter who sometimes splattered paint on a canvas in the name of art, and became famous for it. So, in honor of Carlisle's return to Bankers Life Fieldhouse, here are the splatterings from Wednesday's game.

  • OK, the Pacers aren't wringing hands over their 0-4 start to the preseason. At this point it's easy to explain each game with an “it's the preseason” shrug. Should you be worried about being 0-4? Lance Stephenson was asked. “Oh, no, I have no concerns,” he said. Still, there have been some curious themes so far. The Pacers, who led the NBA in rebounding last season, have yet to outrebound an opponent, and they're shooting below 40 percent. Their poor perimeter defense has made it easy for opponents to attack the basket and dominate within the foul line. Dallas outscored them in the paint 46-22. “What we need to take out of this is that we're going to get better,” Orlando Johnson said. “It's a long journey. We're just getting started. We have a lot of things we need to work on.”
  • Speaking of long journeys, Wednesday's loss, while coming to the weakest team the Pacers have played so far, might be the most forgivable. They're still feeling the effects of their jaunt to The Philippines and Taiwan. Johnson, who led a fourth-quarter comeback that trimmed Dallas' lead from 19 points to three, said he went to bed at 10 p.m. on Tuesday, woke up at 3 a.m. on Wednesday and couldn't get back to sleep. Some members of the traveling party became ill. Most notably, Paul George stayed home because of a fever that peaked at 104 degrees. Vice President of Communications Quinn Buckner went home before the game because he wasn't feeling well. Other front office members got sick during the trip. “That was a rough trip, man,” Johnson said. Still, those who endured it seem to believe it was worth it, given the wildly enthusiastic receptions they received.
  • Johnson stood out among the Pacers by finishing with 14 points and seven rebounds. He hit 4-of-7 field goal attempts overall, including back-to-back three-pointers in the fourth quarter that got the Pacers within five points. He had another shot with 1:12 left that could have made it a two-point game, but missed a slightly off-balance catch-and-shoot opportunity off a called play, in which he ran to the top of the key. Hitting jumpers will be crucial for him, given his status as an undersized shooting guard. He shot well most of last season, leading the team in three-point percentage at one point in the second half, but faded late.
  • The crude “Gump” nameplate that Roy Hibbert placed above Lance Stephenson's locker last season is gone, but Stephenson was running again on Wednesday. He scored 13 points, nine in the first quarter when he attacked the basket recklessly in transition. Those who watch practice say Stephenson either scores or draws a foul nearly every time he drives. He adds a third option: finding an open teammate and passing off.
  • With Hibbert, George, David West and George Hill sitting out, Luis Scola got extended playing time. He finished with 14 points, but hit just 5-of-15 shots. He's the lone Pacer who expresses a hint of concern. “I'm sure this is not this team,” he said. “I'm 100 percent sure this is not the team we'll have two months into the season.” But he added: “I'm a little bit nervous because we're not playing well. I'm hoping we can get better (than) last year, so at this point … we're a little bit behind.”
  • If there's a concern about the roster, it should be at backup center. Early last season, Ian Mahinmi was playing at least as well as Hibbert. Mahinmi's performance dropped off later in the season, though, and so far he hasn't shown much in preseason. He started and played 24 ½ minutes on Wednesday, but hit just 2-of-6 shots and 3-of-8 free throws. He is active around the basket, but struggles to hit shots and control loose balls. Vogel no doubt will “go small” as often as possible, playing Scola with David West. Vogel said afterward that he's not looking for changes to his roster. “I don't put a lot of thought into that.,” he said. “I try to coach the guys we have.”
  • Chris Copeland was brought in to be a three-point shooter, but has hit just 5-of-25 attempts in the preseason. He hit 42 percent of his attempts for the Knicks last season. “He wants it so bad, he's trying too hard,” Vogel said. “He knows what he's here to do and he puts a lot of pressure on himself to make shots.”
  • Danny Granger had shown continual progress through the first three preseason games, but had a setback on Wednesday when he suffered a strained left calf muscle in the first quarter. It was not believed to be serious, but his status for Friday's game at Chicago was unknown. Vogel has made it clear that Granger would start if he regained his All-Star caliber form, but time is running short for that to occur.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Indiana Pacers. All opinions expressed by Mark Montieth are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Indiana Pacers, their partners, or sponsors.

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