Tonight at 7:30pm EST the Pacers will be at the Palace for a divisional matchup with the Pistons. The Pacers are also on the second night of a back to back, winning their last game. (which broke a 3 game losing streak.)
Previously against the Pacers. (If you don't remember, this was the game where we all came to realize that the Pistons bench is not just bad, it is freaking god awful.)
The Them: The Pacers are, somewhat surprisingly, really good. (I thought they would be pretty good, but maybe not quite this good.) They very suddenly threw out the big and slow ball that had been their identity in the past, and went small. This has gone very well for the Pacers, because unlike a lot of the league trying to mimic Golden State, the Pacers have a super versatile-all world defender in Paul George who is also super talented on offense to make it work. He has (somewhat bizarrely, although no one but Curry has gotten much I suppose) not gotten a lot of attention, but he is having an otherworldly season so far. He has exploded to show that he is a elite scorer, scoring 27.7 ppg on 44.7% shooting. (and 44% from 3) He also is still a freaking force on defense. Whenever Curry comes back down to earth, (and assuming George keeps up his play) George will be a legit MVP candidate. Beyond him, CJ Miles is one of the biggest surprises of the year, posting career numbers in every category. He is scoring 15.8ppg as on 43% from the field. (and 41% from deep) Whether or not he can keep up this play will be a big determiner as to how good the Pacers end up being by the end of the year. If Larry Bird had a meeting where he transfused some of himself onto Miles, then the Pacers are a legit outside shot team. (I say outside shot team because the reality is that in the East it is going to be Cleveland, and then everyone else. The "outside shots" are the teams on the next level who are good enough that with a couple lucky breaks could absolutely beat the Cavs.) George Hill is continuing to do George Hill type things, scoring 12.3ppg and shooting 42% from deep, to go along with his generally very good defense. Monta Ellis has been a disappointment so far, scoring just 12.1ppg (which would easily be the lowest of his career outside of his rookie season if it stands) and his outside shot is really off at just 26% (he's never been that good from 3 though.) and also is not all that good a defender. So far it looks as though he should have tried hard to stay in Dallas. Beyond those 4 though (and theoretically CJ Miles could end up in this group if he falls off) they have a lot of guys who are occasionally pretty good, but are mostly very ok. Pistons fans know about Rodney Stuckey, who is still doing his not very efficient but still generally fairly effective midrange game. Jordan Hill can score a bit, but is a horrid defender, and Ian Mahinmi is generally a pretty good defender, but can't do a lot on offense other than dunk. Chase Budinger appears to have found his shot back. I mean it is clear to see why people thought this team would be not very good, but if Miles can keep up this play and Monta can find his game, this team becomes very good. If Miles falls off and Monta does not find his game though, this team could fall off too. But the reality is that Paul George is so good that this team will be pretty good as long as he is on the floor.
Matchups to watch:
Pistons vs. Slowing down PG-13: George falls into the "To big for KCP" category. And he is a spectacular scorer. I would guess that Greater Morris will get most of the George duty and Ersan will get Miles, but it will certainly end up being a combination of Morris, Ersan, and Stanley Johnson. Somehow they need to keep him from going off, and I'm not sure I see it. The problem here is that Paul George's weakness on offense is that he is not a great facilitator (4.2 assists and 3.4 turnovers) so if you can manage to guard him well enough to make him a creator for others then he becomes less good. But I'm pretty sure that there is no one on the Pistons who is a good enough defender that he will have to do anything but shoot over, and around the defenders. I think that the only hope the Pistons really have is that Johnson forgets he is a rookie for a night and looks like the defender we all hope he becomes in a few years. Outside of him, Morris will play him pretty hard, but Morris just is not good enough to bother him much. This will almost certainly be a huge problem.
Pistons vs. Finding the 3rd scoring option: Greater Morris has been the 3rd offensive option for the Pistons this year. He will likely end up with Paul George on him most of the game, (he did last time at least) as such it would be foolish to hope for much from Morris tonight. As such one of KCP or Ersan will have to step up and score some points tonight. (or potentially someone off the bench)
Playing defense without Andre: Andre Drummond dominating fools in the paint is the backbone of the Pistons very good defense. Last time these teams played, the Pacers countered by just never going into the paint. The Pistons had almost twice as many paint points as the Pacers and yet still lost by 10. The Pistons perimeter defense will have to be on point tonight, because they cannot just count on Andre cleaning up after them.
Andre vs. Everybody: Mahinmi is looking like a real player, but he is not that good. And Jordan Hill should actually figure to have no chance against Andre. It will be a hard game for Andre because of how perimeter oriented the Pacers are, but he should (and will have too) feast on offense if the Pistons want to win.
Bench vs. Eternal sadness: Last time the Pistons played the Pacers was the first time the bench reared it's ugly head. Please don't blow the game again bench.
So in conclusion
Cackle with knowing glee if:
The monstars are in the house and decide just to steal Paul George's talent.
Andre is getting every offensive rebound and hooking the Pacers to death.
KCP takes advantage of being guarded by Ellis to a good offensive night.
Run for the hills if:
Paul George has 40 points by halftime.
Andre has looked almost invisible as the Pacers freely bomb away from deep, rendering him useless.
SERIOUSLY HOW WILL THE PISTONS STOP PAUL GEORGE
The bench immediately gives away a 10 point lead upon entering the game.
Opportunities for me to look stupid:
Andre has 10 offensive rebounds.
KCP has his best offensive half of the year, prompting George Hill to switch onto him, thusly allowing Reggie to feast on Ellis in the second half.
Paul George scores 40 points.
Pistons bench holds up enough that the Starters can do their thing, and the Pistons let George get his points but no one else on the Pacers really does much and the Pistons win a close game.
Paul George scares me at this point. Like a lot. He is terrifying. But outside of that, I generally like this matchup, but it should be a good game between divisional opponents.
What do you think? Do you have nightmares about Paul George? Let me know! We all get smarter!