The Indiana Pacers (5-7) fell from Eastern Conference contenders to also-rans after Lance Stephenson departed in free agency, then Paul George broke his leg playing a scrimmage for the US Men's National Team this past summer.
George and Stephenson were two of the three highest scorers on last season's Pacers squad. Stephenson was a key component for the Pacers' #1 rated defense while George was growing into a genuine superstar.
This year's Pacers are down from 1st to 8th in D-rating, and their never-all-that-impressive offense is down from 23rd to 25th, scoring only 101.1 points per 100 possessions, and only 91.6 per game. They've also slowed the pace even further, from 20th to 29th in the league, though they have won 4 of their last 5 games.
The Suns, meanwhile, are sputtering a bit on offense, scoring 105.2PPG due to a fast pace, but are just 15th in the league in O-rating. Chew on this, Suns fans: Our boys have a better defensive rating (13th) than offensive rating as we enter the 14th game of the season.
Last season, the Suns boat-raced (or, since it's Indy, car-raced?) the Pacers 124-100 in January, then beat them again 8 days later, 102-94. They did this by spreading the vaunted Pacers D, then attacking the paint with zeal. Gerald Green had a grand, old time devastating his former team. Roy Hibbert did not enjoy it quite so much.
It's funny how expectations work. Last season's Suns were like found money to us fans as they blew low expectations out of the water. This season, 8-5 so far somehow feels disappointing.
For the Pacers, the losses of George and Stephenson obviously ratcheted expectations way back, and now some of their fans are holding a "Hey, we don't totally suck!" sentiment.
Keys to the Game
- The Green Machine: Will we see the "OMG, Gerald Green!" or the "WTF, Gerald Green?" tonight? Green started both of those wins vs. the Pacers last season in Bledsoe's absence, and responded with 23 and 16 point outings. How will Green fare off the bench tonight?
- Ah, push it. Push it real good: Despite playing last night, the Suns will need to get up on this and push the pace on the plodding Pacers. It's not as if the Suns starters had to break much of a sweat in downing the putrid 76ers last night, so run, run, and then run some more. Get in those passing lanes to create turnovers, then attack.
- Which of the three-headed monster will bring it? Isaiah Thomas, Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe are three of the Suns four highest scorers, but each has been up and down so far. IT has cooled after his fast start while Dragic seems to be hitting his stride. Who will have the hot hand tonight?
- Plumlee and Len vs. Hibbert: He's the Pacers leading scorer at 14.0 PPG, but Hibbert isn't any kind of offensive juggernaut. The Plum-Len duo should be able to play him to at least a draw, though the Pacers center is enjoying a bit of a Renaissance after his collapse late last season.
- Ball movement: This will be a continuing theme for the Suns all season. It's nice to have three great PGs and, theoretically, such a roster should be able to pass it around for open shots, but that hasn't always been the case. All three are shoot-first players to varying degrees, which is fine because they can all light it up, but the Suns will have to play smarter on offense. 15th in O-rating won't cut it.
- PG: Eric Bledsoe vs. Donald Sloan
- SG: Goran Dragic vs. Solomon Hill
- SF: Marcus Morris vs. Chris Copeland
- PF: Markieff Morris vs. Luis Scola
- C: Miles Plumlee vs. Roy Hibbert