The Pacers are expected to contend for the Eastern Conference crown, while the Magic are rebuilding and have no goals beyond player development for the upcoming season.
The end result of the first game of the year reflected those expectations, as Indiana pulled away in the fourth quarter to beat Orlando by a final of 97-87.
Whether due to opening night rust or slightly undervaluing their opponent, the Pacers took longer than expected to put this one away. Orlando was within a single point with six seconds remaining in the third period, before Indiana went on a 15-1 run over the next three and a half minutes or so to take control for good.
Paul George led the Pacers with 24 points on 8-of-16 shooting, to go along with six rebounds, five assists, and three blocked shots. Roy Hibbert was dominant defensively, and finished with a ridiculous line of eight points, 16 rebounds, and seven blocked shots in just 27 minutes of action. He left the game late in the fourth after knocking knees and then slipping to the floor before limping off, but the Pacers later said he could have returned and he will play in his team’s next game.
On the Magic side, Andrew Nicholson made the biggest impact off the bench, scoring 18 points on 8-of-10 shooting in 19 minutes of action. Rookie of the Year candidate Victor Oladipo showed some signs in his first real NBA action, but also was victimized by the Pacers’ rim protection on more than one occasion. He finished with 12 points on 4-of-11 shooting in 23 minutes off the bench.
Lance Stephenson had a big night in the starting lineup for the Pacers, and finished with 19 points, seven rebounds, and five assists. Indiana would love to get that level of production consistently out of him, but overall, the Pacers will be happy with their opening night performance, and the way they were able to pull away late to secure the team’s first victory of the season.
Watching Monty Williams back on the court at the USA basketball camp/practices in Las Vegas, you could see he was at home. He’s easily the best 44-year-old defender on the planet — he went toe-to-toe with Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler, and the rest, was physical, and made them work for buckets. Then he’d instruct. He’s just a natural.
Back in February, Williams’ wife was killed in an auto accident. It devastated the devout family man, in ways it’s hard for us to understand who have never experienced it. He walked away from coaching the rest of the NBA season with the Thunder, and nobody questioned it for a second.
Now, after getting his feet wet with Team USA (where he is an assistant to Mike Krzyzewski), he told Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman he is ready to get back on the sidelines.
“I wouldn’t even think that if I didn’t know, one, my wife would want me to; my kids talk about it all the time. And there have been some things that have happened in my life lately that have allowed me to get that back. I’m so juiced up and ready to get back into it again.”
He is one of the better respected assistant coaches in the league, and a guy who will get another shot at a top spot someday. Soon. Can’t wait to see him back on the sidelines.
The leap from college — even high-level college programs — to the NBA can be hard to describe. Now everybody is bigger, longer, and far more athletic — the guy at the end of the bench barely getting any burn was one of the best players on his college team.
Players get their first taste of that at Summer League. The Sixers’ No. 1 pick Ben Simmons looked pretty good when he got that taste, but you can see the development that needs to go on as well.
He’s spending the time between now and the start of training camp working on his shooting and getting stronger, among other things, he told Jessica Camerato of CSNPhilly.com.
“I think just getting in the gym and making sure I’m getting reps up, shooting-wise, dribbling,” Simmons said earlier this week after an appearance at Sixers Camp in Wayne, Pennsylvania. “The weight room as well, making sure I get my strength back and my weight up.”
All good things. Handles and shooting in particular — he’s about to start seeing much better defenders nightly. It’s going to take time, and we’ll see how far he can go, but Simmons unquestionably brings a lot of skill and potential to the table. That he’s putting in the work is a good sign — that was one of the concerns about him heading into the draft.
New GM Bryan Colangelo is going to benefit from Sam Hinkie’s process. So long as he doesn’t screw it up.
JaVale McGee is getting another shot in the NBA.
He played just 34 games off the bench for Dallas last season. He played 23 games the season before that due to injury.
But the Golden State Warriors are thin up front — Zaza Pachulia will get the bulk of the minutes at the five (when the Warriors use a traditional center), and there is the often-injured Anderson Varejao behind him. The Warriors could use another big. So they are giving McGee a look, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.
This is a low-risk move by the Warriors, and it’s worth the gamble. Vintage McGee, for all his Shaqtin’ a Fool flaws, is far more athletic and a better rim protector than any of the guys the Warriors now have at the five. If it doesn’t work out — and the odds are it will not — they cut him, if it does they pay him a minimum deal.
I hope he makes it, just because the league is more fun when McGee is in it.
At some point, Russell Westbrook will sit down with members of the media and discuss Kevin Durant leaving the Thunder, how he felt about the move, and how it impacted him both personally and professionally.
But not right now. He remains silent.
This Vine making its way around, where Westbrook laughs — probably at the question, although read into that whatever you want — when asked about Durant sums up where we are.
In the full Facebook clip, Westbrook walks away, too. It’s his right. He can talk about it on his schedule.