Paul George, Lance Stephenson

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.

Craig Sager to get third bone marrow transplant thanks to anonymous donor

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 16:  Legendary TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager talks with Game 6 of the 2016 NBA Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors at Quicken Loans Arena on June 16, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. Sager is on a one game assignment for ESPN. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Craig Sager couldn’t be in Rio covering the Olympics for NBC, his cancer wouldn’t allow it. That didn’t stop Team USA from reaching out to him before they left. Or from Nike designing a sweet pair of shoes for him.

Now there is good news on his battle against leukemia — he will have a third bone marrow transplant, according to his son Craig Sager II.

This is fantastic news for a man and family who have been through a lot. Hopefully, this treatment is a step forward for Sager, a man beloved by everyone around the NBA.

Report: With Joffrey Lauvergne trade, Mitch McGary likely done with Thunder

DALLAS, TX - MARCH 16:  Mitch McGary #33 of the Oklahoma City Thunder at American Airlines Center on March 16, 2015 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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The Oklahoma City frontcourt is crowded. Enes Kanter and Steven Adams will start, and they will have Nick Collison, Ersan Ilyasova, Domantas Sabonis, and now Joffrey Lauvergne behind them.

Which likely means Mitch McGary‘s done as a member of the Thunder, according to Royce Young of ESPN.

McGary has battled injuries his two seasons in the league and got on the court for only 72 minutes total last season for the Thunder (he played in more games and put up solid numbers in the D-LEague). He was not part of the future there regardless. He’s an undersized five trying to play the four and what he brought as a rookie — energy — was not enough as a sophomore.

McGary will make $1.5 million this season. He may be tough to move because he’s suspended for the first five games he’s eligible to play next season for failing the league’s drug policy (five games is the standard suspension for testing positive for marijuana three times). Maybe a team looking to develop players will give him a shot, but there is little trade value for him.

Dwight Howard is shooting 19-footers to improve his free throw stroke

Dwight Howard
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If you can knock down a 19-foot shot, then a 15-footer should be easier. Right?

Apparently that — and just basic muscle memory — is the latest attempt to improve Dwight Howard‘s free throw shooting. And, he seems to be knocking down those shots.

It’s not hard to see the logic in this approach.

The challenge is form and reps are not the problems for Howard — or DeAndre Jordan or Andre Drummond or others — when it comes to hitting free throws. Anyone who says “why don’t they just practice the shot” doesn’t pay attention, these guys put in a lot of work on the shot. Pregame and in practice (I’m Los Angeles based), Jordan probably hits 65 percent from the line. At least.

The problem is mental. That can be a tougher hurdle to clear. Maybe taking 19 footers and knocking them down will have Howard feeling more confident at the stripe this season.

But we’re going to need to see it to believe it. Just like we’re going to have to see a rejuvenated Howard in Atlanta before we believe this season will be different from the last few.

Report: Veteran big man Jason Thompson agrees to deal in China

BEIJING, CHINA - OCTOBER 15:  Jason Thompson # 34 of Sacramento Kings in action during the 2014 NBA Global Games match between the Brooklyn Nets and Sacramento Kings at MasterCard Center on October 15, 2014 in Beijing, China. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
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Until this season, Jason Thompson had never been to the playoffs. He spent seven seasons in Sacramento before getting traded to the Warriors last offseason, and then signing with the Raptors midseason when Golden State waived him to make room on the roster for Anderson Varejao. His NBA days appear over, at least for now. International basketball reporter David Pick reports that Thompson has agreed to a deal to play in China.

Since the CBA’s season ends in March, Thompson could theoretically join an NBA team for the stretch run next year. But he didn’t appear to have much interest on the free-agent market this summer.