Added Importance to Wednesday's Game vs Raptors

Jan. 22, 2019 - The Pacers discussed the importance of Wednesday's game against a Raptors team that has beaten them twice this season and is ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings.

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Added Importance to Wednesday's Game vs Raptors

Jan. 22, 2019 - The Pacers discussed the importance of Wednesday's game against a Raptors team that has beaten them twice this season and is ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings.
Jan 22, 2019  |  01:41

Practice: Evans Playing at a High Level

January 22, 2019 - After practice on Tuesday, Tyreke Evans talked about the works that he's put in on the defensive side of the ball, while Darren Collison and Head Coach Nate McMillan praised the scoring Evans is able to bring off of the bench for the Pacers.
Jan 22, 2019  |  01:44

Evans Looking, Feeling Like His Old Self

by Mark Montieth
Pacers.com Writer
@MarkMontieth

The before and after snapshot of Tyreke Evans' season would be the statistical equivalent of those bodybuilding advertisements that once appeared in the back of sports magazines, in which the 98-pound weakling is transformed into a muscle-bound Adonis.

In his case, however, it wasn't a weightlifting program that brought about the improvement. It was a needle to his right knee, injecting "platelet-rich plasma" and making it pain-free again.

Evans has scored in double figures in six consecutive games, his longest such streak as a Pacer. The most recent came in Sunday's 120-95 victory over Charlotte, in which he finished with 14 points, five assists and one turnover in 15 ½ minutes.

He can be forgiven, however, if he's not viewing his current run as some kind of breakthrough. His point total reached double figures in all but three of his 52 games with Memphis last season. And if six-game streaks are a measuring stick, he had one early last season in which he averaged 24.7 points on 61 percent shooting. Five of those games were played on the road.

The most relevant analysis of Evans' season should use Dec. 21 as the reference point. That was the day he had the PRP injection while the Pacers were in Brooklyn to play the Nets, courtesy of a New York City doctor who had performed surgery on him in the past.

Evans hasn't been the same since, which has been a good and important thing for the Pacers.

Here's the breakdown:

G Min. Pts FG% 3FG%
Before PRP 30 21.3 10.2 .363 .349
After PRP 12 17.9 12.7 .472 .385

In Evans' case, PRP also could stand for "player regaining potential." The shot has improved the flexibility and strength of Evan's knee, which has improved his mobility and shooting. For those keeping score at home, he'll go back to New York for another injection over the All-Star break.

Evans' improved knee also has helped unleash the strength of his offensive game. While historically just an average 3-point shooter, he's also historically been an outstanding Euro-stepper when attacking the basket, executing crossover moves to free himself from defenders. He scored on two defended transition drives in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game, performing dance steps around and through Hornets for layups. He missed many of those shots before PRP, but makes most of them now.

"When I have the ball and I'm pushing, that's when I'm at my best," he says.

Evans credits his coach at the University of Memphis, John Calipari, for injecting that element into his game. At 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds, Evans is an intimidating presence for most backpedaling guards as he barrels toward the rim in transition. Calipari, wanting to utilize that edge, made it part of the practice schedule to station coaches with blocking pads near the basket and have Evans and others drive toward them and figure a way to score.

"He always wanted me to play at a fast pace and beat the bigs down and attack the guards because of my size," Evans said.

"I got better and better. I guess it fit me. It's basically little guards down there and they're reaching, so once I get the ball up it's basically an easy shot."

Evans also has been a solid defender, contrary to his image as a playground type of scorer and playmaker. He has the length and strength to battle bigger guards, and is quick enough to stay with most of the others as long as his knee is healthy.

Tyreke Evans and Thaddeus Young

Photo Credit: NBAE/Getty Images

"He's been in the league long enough to have savvy," assistant coach Dan Burke said. "Even when there are times it looks like he might be behind the play, he'll get his hands on the ball. He'll put a solid effort into fighting over dribble handoffs and pindowns when we ask him to.

"He told me one time, 'I'm not a good one-on-one defender.' I said, 'You don't have to be. We want great team defense.'"

Evans was assigned to Charlotte point guard and leading scorer Kemba Walker through stretches of the second and fourth quarter on Sunday. It's difficult to draw much of a conclusion from that, as Walker hit a 3-pointer after losing Evans on a screen and missed shots after switches as well. The bottom line, though, was that Evans outscored Walker during those minutes thanks to his transition layups and a step-back jumper.

Coach Nate McMillan is starting to tinker with the game-ending lineups, looking for ways to include Evans in certain matchups. He was on the court with Victor Oladipo, Cory Joseph, Thad Young and Sabonis late in Sunday's game. He'll need to continue to defend to bring more of those opportunities.

"It really gives us another option if he's able to defend one through three," McMillan said. "There's a lot of things we can do if these guys continue to show growth."

A measuring stick, but no statement

Wednesday's game against Toronto will be easy to hype, for those so inclined. The Raptors are tied with Milwaukee for the Eastern Conference lead, three games ahead of the Pacers. They also have defeated the Pacers twice this season, both in Toronto.

But is it a so-called statement game that will have meaning beyond the standings?

"If we win this game, what does it say?" McMIllan said. "If we lose it, we've got another one coming up."

The value of the game, McMillan and a few of his players agreed, is as a measuring stick for the current status of the team. It will help define how they stack up against the elite teams in the conference, and perhaps where they need to improve to make a run in the playoffs.

"It shows some opportunity to show some growth," McMillan said.

Darren Collison rejected the need for a statement, believing the Pacers' competitive record (31-15) speaks for itself.

"If we want to be the best in the East, I don't think this should be a statement game," Collison said. "This should be a game we go out and compete and win. Statement wins are for teams that feel like they're underdogs. I don't think we feel like we're underdogs to any team right now."

The Pacers are 3-6 combined against the other top-tier teams in the East – Toronto, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Boston. They've lost the previous four such games, however, to the 76ers, Boston and Toronto twice.

"We feel like we're right there," Collison said. "We just have to cut down on some of our mistakes and we'll be fine."

How much bearing whatever happens between teams in the regular season has in the playoffs is difficult to measure, but most players don't believe it means much. Circumstances can change significantly between a regular season matchup and playoff series, whether its roster moves, injuries or momentum.

"The playoffs are a different beast," Collison said. "The adjustments, game plans are different. You might have a team's number, but you make adjustments and it doesn't matter. All that stuff goes out the window. You're not thinking about that in Game 1."


Have a question for Mark? Want it to be on Pacers.com? Email him at askmontieth@gmail.com and you could be featured in his next mailbag.

Mark Montieth's book on the formation and groundbreaking seasons of the Pacers, "Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis," is available in bookstores throughout Indiana and on Amazon.com.

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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