Heading into this weekend, we wondered if the Pacers would be able to continue their perfect start to the season facing a tough road matchup against the Brooklyn Nets.
But while the Nets are still finding their way from a chemistry standpoint, the Pacers are already there. And behind yet another strong all-around game from Paul George, Indiana improved to 7-0 on the season with a 96-91 road victory.
Brooklyn was in this game throughout, and cut a fourth quarter deficit of 10 points with under five minutes to play to just three in the game’s closing possessions. Joe Johnson had a chance to tie it with 11 seconds remaining, but his three-pointer rimmed out and David West secured the rebound before sealing the win for his team at the free throw line in the game’s closing seconds.
The Nets are going to rely on their starting lineup throughout the season to do the bulk of the damage, and on this night they largely came through as expected. But their bench unit didn’t provide much support, and in fact, neither did that of the Pacers. This was a matchup of the two teams’ best players, and Indiana’s had simply proven to be better by the time the final buzzer had sounded.
George led all scorers with 24 points, and got help from West with 18, while Lance Stephenson and Roy Hibbert chipped in 15 apiece. The Nets had similar contributions from four of their starters save Kevin Garnett, who managed just six points in 27 minutes but was effective as always defensively.
The only thing worth questioning with Indiana as it relates to the team’s fast start is whether the cohesiveness of having the majority of the same players in place as a season ago is a factor, along with the players’ relative hunger to succeed after coming so close to reaching the Finals last year.
One would think that teams like the Heat and the Bulls will be catching up at some point, but for now, the Pacers have proven to be the class of the league with their undefeated start at this early stage of the regular season.
Paul George‘s first experience starting as a power forward was going up against Anthony Davis — not just one of the best power forwards in the game, one of the handful of best players in the game period. That didn’t go well for George, and he wasn’t happy about it.
His second experience was in another preseason game Tuesday, going up against the Pistons and their four, Ersan İlyasova. He’s not quite as intimidating.
George scored 20 points on 7-of-8 shooting, 4-of-5 on threes — and that was just the first quarter (you can see it all in the video above).
As we have said before, George at the four is not a bad call by the Pacers, but some of that depends on the matchup. On the nights the Pacers face Davis or Blake Griffin or LaMarcus Aldridge or Zach Randolph (or a handful of others) the Pacers’ coaching staff is going to have to adjust. But there are a lot of nights where George at the four is going to force the other team to adjust, and that will play into the Pacers’ hands.
Last season, DeMarcus Cousins received zero MVP votes (the same as every year of his career). Even though he averaged 24.1 points, and 12.7 rebounds a game, which was enough to get him his first All-Star berth, MVP is another thing entirely. Only players on winning teams tend to draw the attention of MVP voters.
This season, can Cousins — arguably the best center in the game — get in the conversation?
He thinks it’s more than just that, he told Kevin Ding at Bleacher Report.
The topic is the 2015-16 NBA MVP award and whether it could be reachable for DeMarcus Cousins.
“Reachable, man?” Cousins told Bleacher Report, his voice rising high. “It’s mine to grab.”
As noted above, the only way Cousins gets into the conversation — fair or not — is if the Kings are in the playoffs (at the very least). He understands that.
“It’s going to take a full team effort,” Cousins said. “I’ll try to play at a high level and bring my team along with me.”
Vlade Divac built a Kings’ team designed to start winning now — as you would expect from a team a year away from moving into a new arena they need to fill. Owner Vivek Ranadive is not about selling hope anymore, he wants to sell wins.
I think Cousins can help provide that.
I’m less sold on the cast around him being able to help.