Pacers to See How They Measure Up

It's one game out of 82, and will hardly deify or damn the Pacers regardless of the outcome.

It is, however, a meaningful gauge of just where they stand in this brave new world of uptempo play and wide-open offenses that practically worship the 3-point shot. It has to be, when you play the masters of what you're aspiring to do, just as if you were to race the world's fastest human.

"One hundred percent," C.J. Miles said Monday, looking ahead to Tuesday's game against the 22-0 Golden State team that comes to Bankers Life Fieldhouse. "In this new style, for sure, because you're playing against the team that has the whole league trying to do it. It's definitely a measuring stick that means a lot. It definitely will show us a lot about what we're doing."

What the Pacers are doing in incorporating the style of play that carried Golden State to the NBA championship last season has been mostly impressive. They're 12-7 despite an 0-3 start to the season, just one-half game back Miami in the Eastern Conference. But they're not the Warriors, who happen to be unbeaten while they rewrite the constitution of basketball.

As if winning 67 regular season games and winning the championship last season wasn't enough, Golden State has gotten better. It ranks first in the NBA in scoring (115.1), two-point field goal accuracy (.525), 3-point accuracy (.437), rebounding (46.2) and assists (28.9. It defends well, too, ranking second in blocked shots and opponent 3-point percentage.

So, yes, it brings a challenge to the Pacers, who play their first home game since landing at 4:30 AM Sunday following a four-game road trip in which they dropped the final two games. The first home game after such a trip is difficult as players readjust to their time zone and catch up on both sleep and personal business, but the Warriors will be playing the fifth of a seven-game journey that has taken them to Utah, Charlotte, Toronto and Brooklyn.

The Fieldhouse will be sold out, and media representatives from Sports Illustrated, ESPN and NBA.com will be on hand to see where the Pacers stand, and if they can be the first to make the Warriors fall.

"This is about as good as it's going to get until April or May," said Paul George, who scored 48 points in Saturday's loss in Salt Lake City. "We're definitely excited about the crowd that's going to come and about this match-up."

With all due respect to George, who has exceeded expectations for his comeback from the broken leg that kept him out of all but the final six games last season, the greatest source of the crowd's interest will be Warriors guard Steph Curry, who is playing the game in a manner that's never been played.

Curry, last season's league MVP, has improved significantly. He averages 32.4 points while hitting 53 percent of his two-point field goals and 47 percent of his three-point shots. It won't help much to put him on the line, because he hits 91 percent of his free throws. His "true" shooting percentage, which takes into account the value of all his made shots, is 70.7, better than Wilt Chamberlain's all-time record of 68.9 set in the 1972-73 season, as Sam Amick of USA Today wrote.

Curry is on pace to shatter the league record for three-point attempts. George McCloud holds it at 678. Curry will shoot 916 of them if he continues firing 11.2 per game.

What do the Pacers do about a guy like that, besides hope travel fatigue sets in?

  1. Run multiple defenders at him. George, George Hill and Monta Ellis all are capable perimeter defenders, and all likely will get a crack at Curry, whose ability to hit three-pointers off the dribble are unmatched. "His ability to handle the ball and his skill set from the three point line … shots are coming from all over," George said. "He stops on a dime and pops it. We've just to to be on our toes – literally."
  2. Make him work at the other end. Curry likely will guard Hill, so the Pacers could direct more of their offense through him to make him more fatigued and, hopefully, foul-burdened. Hill is averaging 12.8 points while hitting 42 percent of his 3-pointers. He's capable of more than that, as he proved last season when he averaged 16 when George and others were out for long stretches with injuries.
  3. Be physical with him. Curry is listed at 185 pounds and relies on finesse rather than brute strength. "He obviously has the ability to create for himself, but a lot of his action comes from them screening and getting him open," George said. "We've got to take the fight to him."
  4. Don't over-react. Curry routinely hits shots despite a defender's best effort. It's important to accept that and move on, rather than become discouraged, and not to lose focus on his teammates, either. "They're going to make some shots that shouldn't go in," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. "They do that every night. You just have to understand that and go out and attack. Steph gets a lot of attention … but they're a great team."

Curry gets plenty of help, too. His backcourt partner Klay Thompson averages 17.2 points while hitting 42 percent of his 3-pointers. He scored 39 against the Pacers here last season, a game Indiana won, 104-98, while Curry sat out. Draymond Green averages 13.3 points while hitting 39 percent of his 3-pointers, along with 8.5 rebounds and 7.2 assists. Harrison Barnes averages 13.4 points while hitting 39 percent of his 3-pointers – but won't play on this road trip because of a sprained ankle.

"There's no way you can't be impressed with what they're doing," Miles said. "They play basketball the way you want to play it. They play well together, they all encourage each other, they have fun, they move the ball, they get dunks and threes. That's what everybody wants to do playing basketball … dunks and threes."

The Pacers were back at work on Monday, studying film of the Warriors and taking their game plan to the practice court. But they have things of their own to be concerned with as well. A variety of breakdowns cost them games in Portland and Salt Lake City that could have been won, and correcting those is as important as containing Curry or any of the other Warriors.

"There's a lot of things you have to do," Vogel said, and then ran some of them off: getting back on defense, rebounding, sharing the ball and, of course, shooting well.

Vogel has become the Pacers' all-time winningest NBA coach partly by maintaining perspective, living out the cliché of not getting too high or too low over a game's outcome, or even a stretch of play. He's not going to over-react to this one, either.

"It's one game," he said. "There's nothing profound you're going to find out. We play great, it doesn't mean we've arrived. We play poorly, it doesn't mean we're headed nowhere."

But it means something whether or not you can hang with your role model, even if just for one evening.

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