George Hill injury jeopardizes Pacers’ identity

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The puzzle pieces have changed, but the picture of the sailboat they form has not.

Under Frank Vogel, the Pacers have relied heavily on their starters. Between them, George Hill, Lance Stephenson, Paul George, David West and Roy Hibbert excel in all areas of the court, offensively and defensively, and really balance each other. But even when the pieces were slightly different – Danny Granger in place of Stephenson or Darren Collison in place of Hill – the positive results remained.

2013 playoffs (Hill, Stephenson, George, West, Hibbert)

  • Starters: +69 in 209 minutes
  • Other lineups: –45 in 319 minutes

2012-13 regular season (Hill, Stephenson, George, West, Hibbert)

  • Starters: +284 in 1,218 minutes
  • Other lineups: +42 in 2,700 minutes

2012 playoffs (Hill, Granger, George, West, Hibbert)

  • Starters: +86 in 240 minutes
  • Other lineups: –71 in 293 minutes

2011-12 regular season (Collison, Granger, George, West, Hibbert)

  • Starters: +189 in 1,000 minutes
  • Other lineups: +29 in 2,198 minutes

In some ways, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, because, the more they play together, the better they play together. Even when the main lineup changed, Indiana showed a strong commitment to the new lineup.

In each of the last two seasons, the Pacers have had the league’s second-highest raw plus-minus. The No. 1 team has changed around them, and in both cases, Indiana held a huge lead over No. 3.

This achievement combines two factors, quality and quantity. For example, a unit that outscores opponents by 1 point per minute and played 10 minutes together (+10) would rank ahead of a unit that outscores opponents by 3 points per minute and played 3 minutes together (+9).

2012-13

  • Thunder (Russell Westbrook-Thabo Sefolosha-Kevin Durant-Serge Ibaka-Kendrick Perkins): +288
  • Pacers: +284
  • Heat (Mario Chalmers-Dwyane Wade-LeBron James-Udonis Haslem-Chris Bosh): +157

2011-12

  • Suns (Steve Nash-Jared Dudley-Grant Hill-Channing Frye-Marcin Gortat): +208
  • Pacers: +189
  • Heat (Mario Chalmers-Dwyane Wade-LeBron James-Chris Bosh-Joel Anthony: +108

The Pacers’ top lineup led the NBA in raw plus-minus in the 2012 playoffs, and it again leads during the 2013 playoffs.

But the peril of the Pacers’ plan is showing with the injury to Hill, who’s still day-to-day. Every team would miss Hill’s defense and outside shooting, but the Pacers will especially miss how Hill interacted with Stephenson, George, West and Hibbert. More so than other teams, Indiana is shook by an injury to a single starter regardless of which it is.

So, D.J. Augustin stepping into the starting lineup will challenge a lot of what Indiana likes to do. When Augustin plays with the Pacers’ other four starters, they’re +5 in 25 minutes during the playoff, though 17 of those minutes came during Game 5 against the Knicks with Hill out (+2). But, using a larger and seemingly more reliable sample, Indiana was –17 in 93 minutes during the regular season with that unit. That was the Pacers’ most-used lineup that was outscored by opponents.

Maybe Vogel now wishes he had given more playing time to lineups besides his starting unit. But if he had, maybe the Pacers wouldn’t have come this far in the first place.

Check out Lakers’ stretch of hitting 15 straight shots to end third quarter (VIDEO)

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The Lakers lost to the Wizards because they are young, inconsistent, and defend like traffic cones at times.

But that young Lakers core also has its moments.

Los Angeles strung together 15 straight made buckets to end the third quarter Tuesday night. Some of it was flukey, like Corey Brewer driving and finishing contested layups like he’s Kyrie Irving, but there were things Lakers fans should want to see such as D'Angelo Russell draining threes, Jordan Clarkson working hard off the ball and his teammates finding him, and Julius Randle just attacking.

After this run the Lakers led by 13 going into the fourth, but lost the game.

It’s official: Joakim Noah cleared to play, 20-game suspension starts tonight

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What this ultimately means is next season the Knicks should have Joakim Noah available just before Thanksgiving.

Noah has been suspended 20 games for testing positive for a banned substance, but because he was out due to knee surgery the suspension did not start until he was “physically able to play.” Noah said on Tuesday that he had been cleared, but that was just by the team doctors. He also had to be cleared by the NBA’s doctors (because if teams could cheat they would).

That happened Wednesday, according to Ian Begley of ESPN.

Noah’s first season in New York after signing a four-year, $72 million deal has been a disappointment. To put it kindly. He’s not been completely healthy, and any observer of him the past few years had to wonder if he would ever be fully healthy again. He had lost a step from the 2014 Defensive Player of the Year before the Knicks signed him. The Knicks don’t need him to necessarily be that dominant a force again (although it would be nice), but they need to get more out of him and see if he is a fit next to Kristaps Porzingis for now as the Knicks try to build a roster for next season that can play a little defense. And the triangle.

Report: Pacers bring back Lance Stephenson in time for playoffs; deal for three-years, $12 million

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The Indiana Pacers need healthy bodies for their playoff run, and they had three rotation guys injured between Al Jefferson, Glenn Robinson III, and Rodney Stuckey. Wednesday, the Pacers waived Stuckey to create an open roster spot to bring in some help (they were not going to pick up his option for next season anyway).

Who are they bringing in? The prodigal son Lance Stephenson returns, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

The surprising part of the deal was the security Stephenson got, as first reported by Adam Zagoria at his blog — three years, $12 million, with a player option for the final year. (This has since been confirmed by other sources.) Other teams were looking at giving Stephenson a 10-day contract, the length of the Pacers’ offer is a surprise.

Stephenson played in six games for Minnesota recently, averaging 3.5 points per game off the bench, but an ankle sprain kept the Timberwolves from really having to decide whether to keep him for the season. Stephenson knows how to create shots for himself and can be a good defender when focused, something we saw with the Pelicans at the start of this season — he became a key part of their rotation averaging 9.7 points and 4.8 assists per game until he tore his groin.

It’s a little strange to see him back in Pacers colors. It will be particularly strange if the Pacers stay in the seven seed and the Cavaliers remain the two-seed setting up a first-round playoff series. Because I don’t think any of us need to see this again.

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Tuesday’s win gives Wizards first division crown since 1979

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Divisions are almost forgotten in the NBA. They exist still as quaint reminders of days gone by, but they don’t matter other than as a potential tie breaker with a non-division-winning team. Winning your division doesn’t even guarantee a team a playoff spot anymore.

Yet, the last time Washington had won a division title they were in the Atlantic division and when you turned on the radio you were likely to hear that new hit Heart Of Glass by Blondie. It was 1979.

That was until Tuesday when John Wall led a 13-point comeback in the fourth quarter against the Lakers to get the Wizards the win and the SouthEast division title.

According to CBSSports.com, that 38-year division title drought was longer than any team in any major U.S. professional sports — NHL, NFL, and MLB.

Congrats to the Wizards. They also have locked up home court in the first round, and they are currently the No. 3 seed in the playoffs (who they face in the first round is up in the air still as only three games separate seeds five through nine).

With Scott Brooks at the helm this feels like a far more dangerous — and healthy — team heading into the postseason. Wizards fans have waited a lot time for a team like this.