By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
December 22, 2012
Almost exactly one month after the Indiana Pacers handed the New Orleans Hornets a 115-107 overtime defeat, the two teams meet in the Crescent City for a Saturday rematch. On Thanksgiving Eve in Indianapolis, the Pacers used a franchise-record nine three-pointers from Paul George to outlast the Hornets, who couldn’t hang on to a fourth-quarter lead. In the extra five-minute period, Indiana enjoyed an 18-10 scoring advantage.
Among the NBA’s other 29 teams, the Pacers may have as many connections to the Hornets and the city of New Orleans as anyone. Indiana’s leading scorer, power forward David West, made two All-Star appearances as a member of the Hornets (in 2008 and 2009) and ranks near the top of the list in franchise history in several statistical categories. Although he has not played yet in 2012-13 due to a left knee injury, Danny Granger is a New Orleans native who excelled in high school hoops at Grace King in Metairie. Pacers backup point guard D.J. Augustin is also originally from the city and led Brother Martin to a pair of state championships in high school.
George racked up a team-best 37 points in the Nov. 21 victory over New Orleans, while West added 16 points. Augustin chipped in with three points and three assists in 18 minutes of action. The Hornets were paced by Robin Lopez’s 21 points (including 15-for-17 foul shooting), while Jason Smith (18 points, 7 rebounds) and Ryan Anderson (17 points, 5-for-5 three-point shooting) also delivered stellar performances.
The Pacers are a rare Eastern Conference opponent thus far in the month of December for the Hornets, who are 3-6 against clubs from that half of the NBA. New Orleans has defeated Chicago, Charlotte and Milwaukee. In a scheduling oddity, each of the Hornets’ upcoming four games are also against the East (at Orlando, vs. Toronto, at Charlotte, vs. Atlanta).
Intriguing matchup: Center, Robin Lopez vs. Roy Hibbert
Both players generated one eye-popping stat in the previous Hornets-Pacers matchup, with Lopez dropping in a career-high 15 free throws, and Hibbert blocking a career-most 11 shots. By comparison, in his five-year NBA career, Lopez averages about 1.3 made foul shots per game, while Hibbert’s career blocks average is 1.7. In his first season with the Hornets, Lopez is averaging double-digit points for the first time as a pro.
Big things were expected of the Pacers this season, particularly after they went 42-24 in the 2011-12 regular season and gave the Miami Heat fits in a second-round Eastern Conference playoff series. The Pacers actually led the series 2-1 over the eventual NBA champion Heat, but dropped the next three games. It’s been an up-and-down start to 2012-13 for Indiana, which has hovered around .500 amid a key injury and a struggling offense. The Pacers have been without small forward Danny Granger (knee), who has led the club in scoring each of the past several years. A few other key Pacers have not shot well early in ’12-13, including center Roy Hibbert, who was an All-Star last season.
Indiana attempted to improve its depth in the offseason by signing point guard D.J. Augustin, who has been in and out of the team’s rotation recently, sometimes behind rookie Ben Hansbrough. Other veteran Pacer pickups include high-flying swingman Gerald Green and interior grinder Ian Mahinmi. The Pacers also added draft picks Miles Plumlee and Orlando Johnson, though neither has played much as rookies.
The Eastern Conference’s Player of the Week for Dec. 10-16, swingman Paul George has the potential to become an All-Star soon, with a unique blend of athleticism and skill. The 6-foot-8, 221-pounder is capable of producing highlight-film dunks, but also is accurate from beyond the perimeter, as he demonstrated by going 9-for-13 from three-point range against the Hornets on Nov. 21. Skeptics sometimes say the Pacers lack a true superstar, but many NBA analysts believe George could eventually ascend to that status.
On the rise
After the trade departure of former starting point guard Darren Collison to Dallas, George Hill is the unquestioned No. 1 floor leader for the Pacers. The Indianapolis native is averaging over 30 minutes per game for the first time in his career and roughly 15 points.
The Pacers haven’t received much acclaim for their defense in recent years, but through mid-December, they ranked No. 1 in the league in defensive efficiency. New Orleans was one of just five teams to have scored 100-plus points against Indiana in the Pacers’ first 24 regular season games. The Hornets were a stellar 6-for-10 on treys and 23-for-27 on free throws at Indiana.
On the sideline
Like Monty Williams, the Pacers’ Frank Vogel is one of the NBA’s youngest head coaches. Vogel has directed Indiana to two straight postseason appearances, after the franchise missed the playoffs for four consecutive years (2007-10).
Did you know?
Ben Hansbrough and reserve forward Tyler Hansbrough are brothers, the first siblings to play on the same NBA team since Dominique and Gerald Wilkins were members of the Orlando Magic in the late 1990s.
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