Maybe Indiana is figuring out how to win without Granger

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For those of us who came into this season saying the Indiana Pacers were likely the second best team in the East, their ugly 3-6 start didn’t look good at all. Especially if you watched them play and saw an offense that looked as lethargic as you felt right after your third helping of Thanksgiving dinner.

But the Pacers are sort of to the NBA what the Los Angeles Kings were to the NHL last season (you remember that league, right?) — a team better built for the playoffs and one that needed its parts to come together before they could click.

And the Pacers will not have all their pieces until likely February — Danny Granger is out with knee issues. He was key to their offense because, although he is no superstar, he could create shots and be the guy they could dump the ball to late in the clock when other things didn’t work.

But the Pacers are 3-1 in their last four may finally be figuring it out by trying not to get anyone else to be Granger, something pointed out in a fantastic article by Paul Flannery at SB Nation.

Paul George started trying to be Granger and that didn’t really work.

“I really took it upon myself that I had to play well every night,” George said. “I think that’s something that kind of messed me up in the head a little bit because when I had moments to score I was kind of speeding myself up, just the anxiety that I had to knock that shot down.”

David West talked about how the Pacers need to just be themselves, not try to be Granger, if they are going to win.

“I don’t think you have to do that,” West said. “It’s about playing your game, maximizing what you do and we had opportunities down the stretch where guys just made plays.”

It’s all about the offensive end of the floor — the Pacers are actually playing the best defense in the NBA based on points per possession. And like a great defensive team should do, they are grinding the pace down to limit opponent opportunities (25th in pace in the league).

But they still have to score. They need Roy Hibbert to get back to finishing around the rim — he is shooting 37.9 percent this season, down 12 percentage points from last season, in part because the 7’2” center is shooting just 48.9 percent inside the restricted area. (Stats via Hoopdata.)

They also need George to score, but his way. Which he is starting to do — he dropped 37 on the Hornets.

But ultimately here is the thing about Indiana — they will be there in the end in the playoffs. And once in a setting where the pace already slows down, where defense matters more, where being solid at every position matters, they are still going to be a very tough out.

Watch Kawhi Leonard chop boards ‘karate styyyle’ (video)

AP Photo/Eric Gay
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Kawhi Leonard, enabled by the Spurs’ no-nonsense culture, is probably the NBA’s most boring superstar.

He’s widely recognized as the league’s best defender, and he has worked himself into an elite offensive threat. He has already won a Finals MVP, and regular-season MVP could eventually be in the cards.

But Leonard is notoriously reserved. For someone who has been on this stage for so long, we know little about him.

Except we now know he apparently likes karate.

Leonard:

Gonna chop y’all up. Look at all of us. Karate styyyle.

If “karate styyyle” doesn’t become Leonard’s catchphrase, I don’t even know what we’re doing.

Leonard will finally have the chance to chop up an NBA opponent tonight, when he makes his return from injury.

Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

Kevin Durant brings fan to tears with autographed shoes (video)

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Kevin Durant has become a villain to many.

Clearly not to this Warriors fan, though.

Carmelo Anthony leaves without speaking to media, will probably get fined

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Lately, Carmelo Anthony has parsed whether the Thunder are frustrated or angry and said he’s going through the roughest stretch of his career.

It didn’t get any better last night.

Anthony scored 11 points on 12 shots with three turnovers, and Oklahoma City got outscored by 21 points with him on the floor in a home loss to the Hornets. The Thunder have now lost two of three, falling to the lowly Nets and Hornets and needing overtime to beat the freefalling Grizzlies.

Royce Young of ESPN:

Anthony today:

I’m sorry. My bad. I had a FaceTime session with my son, so I skipped out on you guys yesterday. I apologize. It’s true, though. That’s true. It’s true. He had a school night.

The NBA’s media-access rules state: “All players must be available to the media for a minimum of five to 10 minutes during the postgame media access period.” It’s been a while since someone got punished for violating the policy, but Kevin Garnett was fined $25,000 for not speaking to the media after Game 7 of the 2012 Eastern Conference finals.

I’m sympathetic to Anthony wanting to speak to his son, who’s still in New York. But the league tends not to take these personal concerns into consideration, which is probably for the best. There’s a rule. Anthony violated it. Assessing which personal calls should supersede the rule is a can of worms not worth opening. Besides, Anthony probably could have returned to the locker room for an interview after concluding the call.

Anthony earns a lot of money. If he wanted to risk a $25,000 fine to speak with his son, I have absolutely no problem with that. But that’s probably the choice he made.

In my experience, Anthony has been forthright with the media. He spent years as the face of the Knicks, dutifully answering for problems created by James Dolan and Phil Jackson. Because he was available nearly daily while his superiors avoided interviews, Anthony was the grilled by the New York media.

I bet he expected a reprieve in Oklahoma City. Instead, the spotlight has shined on him as a problem with the underwhelming Thunder.

It’s understandable he’d rather talk to his son than reporters. But it’s also understandable the NBA wants to promote its business through the media, and the league has power to enforce its rules.

Grizzlies fan absolutely owns kids halftime scrimmage (video)

AP Photo/Brandon Dill
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The Grizzlies lost for the 15th time in their last 16 games, a 25-point drubbing at home against the Heat, last night.

But it wasn’t all doom and gloom in Memphis.

This young fan – while playing in the halftime scrimmage – stopped his dribble, stepped on the ball, whipped off his youth jersey to reveal a Marc Gasol jersey, flexed, re-started his dribbled then drove for a basket.

Matt Ellentuck of SB Nation:

The Grizzlies don’t deserve this hero.