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.
The NBA’s award season seems more wide open than ever.
Ben Simmons was going to enter the season as the heavy favorite to win Rookie of the Year, but with him out injured the door is flung open to a lot of players. Coach of the Year is always a game of “which coach exceeds expectations.” Even MVP seems more open with Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant — the award winners the past three seasons — teamed up in the Bay Area.
In this latest PBT Extra I throw out my predictions for the awards, but let’s get on with the games next week and see who earns them.
During the ProBasketballTalk podcast with Sixers coach Brett Brown, you could hear the frustration in his voice. He has all these talented young front line players — Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, Jahlil Okafor — but he can’t begin to figure out how they all fit together if he can’t get them on the court at the same time.
That problem just got worse.
The Sixers announced that Nerlens Noel will miss time following surgery to deal with soreness in his left knee. Here is the word from the press release itself:
During the normal course of evaluation and treatment for his left adductor strain, which was identified on October 6, Noel reported localized soreness in his left knee. After consulting with multiple specialists, the source of the soreness was identified as inflamed plica. Noel has elected to address the injury via a minor surgical procedure in the coming days.
The team gives no timeline for Noel’s return. Soreness from the plica — a band of tissue around the knee that is not important following birth — happens in some players and can be fixed by an arthroscopic surgery that removes the area being irritated. While the surgery is minor, it usually takes around six weeks to bounce back from this.
That likely means a little more run for Jahlil Okafor (just coming back from an injury of his own) and Richaun Holmes. But it’s just another injury setback for a Sixers team plagued by them.
The Sixers also announced that Jerryd Bayless will not have surgery on his wrist, but will remain out and be evaluated in two weeks.
This was flat out incredible.
After a back-and-forth, even series between the Minnesota Lynx and the Los Angeles Sparks, it came down to the final seconds (although maybe it shouldn’t have, the WNBA admitted Friday the referees missed a call with 1:14 left, giving the Sparks’ Nneka Ogwumike a bucket on a shot after the shot clock expired).
The biggest stars took over at the end, as you can see in the video above: L.A.’s Candace Parker drives and scores with 19 seconds left putting the Sparks up 75-74; Minnesota responded with a Maya Moore jumper to take the lead back, then it came down to Ogwumike (the WNBA’s 2016 MVP) getting the ball after a block by Sylvia Fowles and following it up with a fadeaway bucket that gave Los Angeles the title.
Congrats to Candace Parker on the win, after how she’s been overlooked on the awards circuit in the WNBA this season, this is some sweet revenge.
Pelicans point guard Jrue Holiday is away from the team as his wife, Lauren Holiday, battles a brain tumor.
First, Lauren gave birth to a healthy daughter.
Now, more good news.
John Reid of The Times-Picayune:
Hopefully, the Holidays continue to find good health.