Indiana Pacers v Los Angeles Lakers

The Extra Pass: Should Indiana be worried about its offense? And Tuesday’s recaps.

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LOS ANGELES — Indiana is the best team in the NBA right now — they have the best record in the league (by percentage points over Oklahoma City) and they have the best point differential in the league. The Pacers are legitimate title contenders.

They have done all that in spite of their offense.

The Pacers are scoring 102.8 points per 100 possessions this season, which is 18th best in the NBA. That pedestrian number is masked by their top ranked defense, and with that they still have the best point differential in the league per possession. While there have been stretches where the offense has been above average, it has at no point been elite.

Is that something to worry about?

“Yea, a little bit, we want to be in the Top 10,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said before his team took on the Lakers Tuesday night — and struggled for a half on offense against one of the league’s worst defenses. “With where our defense is, we feel if we are in the top 10 we are where we want to be. It’s probably not as high as we want to be.”

“We’ve got to get back to being consistent on the offensive end, sharing the ball, moving it, setting guys up, getting guys open and continuing to play for one another,” Paul George said.

Tuesday night the Pacers looked like a team with tired legs at the end of a road trip —George was 4-of-21 and didn’t have the lift we are accustomed to. Danny Granger was 3-of-10 shooting. As a team the Pacers were 2-of-11 from three in the first half.

Once again, as it has been for much of the season, it was left to Lance Stephenson to create offense, particularly on the perimeter in the half court. He responded, as he has much of the season — but Vogel admitted this was not the vision he had starting the season.

“I wanted to expand his role,” Vogel said of his plans for Stephenson going into training camp. “What I envisioned was getting him out early, bringing him back to play with the bench unit and running offense through him. That sort of expanded when he started producing with the starting unit. So obviously, we’re a balanced team and we’re going to go to the hot hand so to speak, or to whoever is making the most efficient plays. With the second unit that’s who we’re going with, but a lot of times with the first unit he’s been great too.”

The second unit is becoming a little more about Granger, who is in a sixth man role that he willingly has accepted. But Granger is not yet his old self.

“He’s coming, he’s coming,” Vogel said of Granger. “He’s not there yet, he knows that. There’s going to be good nights and not so good nights, good plays and not so good plays. When you come back from a major knee surgery like that you’re not really yourself until the second year. He’s only 18 or 19 games. But he’s got four months to play before we start the playoffs, and that’s where we think he will be the biggest factor for us.”

Against the Lakers — who want to run but don’t really bother to play transition defense — the Pacers got 17.4 percent of their attempts in transition. That’s part of the plan, Vogel said, describing what he wants the Pacers to play with is “intelligent tempo.”

“We want to explore for early strikes every time we get the ball, we don’t want to do it at the cost of turnovers, low turnovers, and (we want) great shots — not good shots, or average shots, or bad shots. Great shots and low turnovers,” Vogel said.

Come the playoffs, there will be less of that — which is fine by Indiana. The game slows down in the playoffs and that means the Pacers can get back and set their fierce defense.

But they are still going to have to score in the half court, and do it a bit more efficiently than they have to this point. At least they’ll need to against Miami and it’s aggressive defense (the rest of the East, it won’t matter). The Pacers have time to get back to what Paul George seems to remember them doing better.

Their offense isn’t really something to worry about, but a little concern is not out of order.

—Kurt Helin
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source:  Pelicans 100, Cavaliers 89: Anthony Davis put up a monster stat line of 30 points, seven rebounds and eight blocked shots for the Pelicans, who had little trouble with a Cavs team playing without Anderson Varejao due to injury. On the Cavs’ side, Kyrie Irving was average and Dion Waiters was slightly above, but the bright spot was rookie and number one overall draft pick Anthony Bennett, who cracked double figures scoring for the first time with 15 points and eight rebounds in 31 minutes of action. — Brett Pollakoff

Knicks 114, Celtics 88: The Knicks got their third straight victory, and got a small measure of revenge in the process. Boston handed New York two of their worst losses of the season, but this time the result was never in doubt for the Knicks. New York led by as many as 35 points in this one before the game came to its merciful conclusion. Kenyon Martin returned to action, but left with another injury that appeared to be related to his chronic ankle issues. Iman Shumpert also left in the first quarter with a shoulder injury and did not return, and his status moving forward remains unknown. It was an easy win for the Knicks, but a potentially costly one. –BP

Rockets 97, Spurs 90: Each team was missing one of its key players, but the game remained largely competitive nonetheless. The Spurs were without Kawhi Leonard due to a foot fracture, and the Rockets were without James Harden due to a bruised left thumb. San Antonio squandered a 15-point first half lead, and Houston rallied with a 33-18 third quarter that put them in command. Jeremy Lin hit some clutch shots late to seal it, and Dwight Howard finished with 23 points and 16 rebounds, but shot just 5-of-15 from the field. Howard shot a ridiculous 25 free throws, making 13 as part of San Antonio’s strategy to intentionally put him on the line. As punishment from the gods for employing this soul-crushing strategy, Boris Diaw led the Spurs with 22 points. Houston is now 3-0 against San Antonio on the season, the first time since 1997 where they’ll win the season series. — BP

Pistons 103, Magic 87: Detroit snapped a four-game losing streak thanks to a big performance from Andre Drummond, who finished with 13 points, 17 rebounds and a couple of blocked shots. The Pistons had a 22-point advantage in the paint, and Orlando rookie Victor Oladipo finished with a team-high 19 points off the bench in the losing effort. — BP

Grizzlies 98, Trail Blazers 81: Memphis plays good defense and that was able to turn ever Trail Blazer not named LaMarcus Aldridge (27 points) into a poor shooter — Blazers besides Aldridge shot 29.7 percent. On the other side, Portland is not a strong defensive team and the Grizzlies took advantage racing out 10-0 to open the game, going on to put up 61 first half points on 56.5 percent shooting and hit 4-of-8 threes, Mike Conley had 16 of his 19 in the first half, Zach Randolph had 23 on the night (but needed 22 shots). Damian Lillard was 2-of-9 from three leading a 4-of-24 shooting from beyond the arc night for Portland, and they need those buckets to fall for their offense to click. — Kurt Helin

 Wizards 88, Warriors 85: It felt like this game was played with those just-a-little-to-small carnival basketball rims — the winning Wizards shot 37.8 percent, the losing Warriors 37.5 percent. Stephen Curry had 23 points but needed 23 shots to get there, while Klay Thompson was 5-of-17 and David Lee was 2-of-10. Bradley Beal had 20 points, John Wall was just 6-of-19 shooting but he hit a three with 1:28 left that proved to be the game winner. –KH

 Pacers 104, Lakers 92: Indiana looked like a team on the end of a 10-day trip — they had no legs and it showed with Paul George shooting 4-of-21 and Roy Hibbert was 5-of-11 shooting. That’s why this was a tied game at the half. But the Pacers win with defense — they held the Lakers to 39.4 percent shooting — and by limiting their own mistakes, such as only giving up 4 turnovers all game. Those things and a deeper bench had the Pacers pulling away to win in the second half. Lance Stephenson led the way with 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting, plus he had 14 rebounds. Pau Gasol kept his run of strong play going with 21 points and 13 rebounds. –KH

Suns coach Earl Watson cautions support for marijuana use a “slippery slope”

PHOENIX, AZ - OCTOBER 30:  Head coach Earl Watson of the Phoenix Suns reacts during the second half of the NBA game against the Golden State Warriors at Talking Stick Resort Arena on October 30, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Warriors defeated the Suns 106 -100. 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 Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr is a thoughtful, measured adult who made a very rational decision: He was battling debilitating back pain that was keeping him away from the Warriors, so he chose to try marijuana to try to ease that pain. It didn’t work for Kerr, but he advocated for professional sports leagues to have a more open mind toward allowing the drug to be used for pain management.

Suns’ coach Earl Watson is a thoughtful, measured adult who comes from a very different world than Kerr, and that gives him a different perspective. Watson’s story is that of a child who grew up in poverty, surrounded by violence, in Kansas City, and used basketball to pull himself out of that world.

Watson urged caution in NBA coaches endorsing the use of marijuana, speaking to Chris Haynes of ESPN.

“I think our rhetoric on it has to be very careful because you have a lot of kids where I’m from that’s reading this, and they think [marijuana use is] cool,” Watson told ESPN on Saturday after the Suns’ 138-109 loss to the Warriors. “It’s not cool. Where I’m from, you don’t get six fouls to foul out. You get three strikes. One strike leads to another. I’m just being honest with you, so you have to be very careful with your rhetoric…

“I think it would have to come from a physician — not a coach,” Watson said. “And for me, I’ve lived in that other life [of crime and drugs]. I’m from that area, so I’ve seen a lot of guys go through that experience of using it and doing other things with that were both illegal. And a lot of those times, those guys never make it to the NBA, they never make it to college, and somehow it leads to something else, and they never make it past 18.

“So when we really talk about it and we open up that, I call it that slippery slope. We have to be very careful on the rhetoric and how we speak on it and how we express it and explain it to the youth.”

There is no doubt that as a society, the United States is moving toward the legalization of marijuana. More and more states move that way each election, and the generational shift in attitudes toward the drug is an unstoppable trend.

How the NBA (and other professional sports leagues) adjust their rules and procedures in dealing with this will be a topic in the coming years. With that is the issue Watson brings up — the image the NBA projects on the issue. NBA players are free to drink alcohol, but it can’t impact them at work (like just about every other job), but the NBA doesn’t want to be seen as pro-drinking. It will have to find a way to walk that same line with marijuana.

Dirk Nowitzki will not fade away: “I’m all-in. I want to play.”

DALLAS, TX - APRIL 21:  Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks reacts against the Oklahoma City Thunder during game three of the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Center on April 21, 2016 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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Dirk Nowitzki has played in just two of the Mavericks’ last 13 games, and five games total all season. When he has played he hasn’t been his vintage self, he’s been slowed by injury. This is a 38-year-old battling a sore Achilles, and Dallas doesn’t want to see its future Hall of Famer limping off into retirement, and he is out indefinitely. They are being cautious.

But make no mistake, Nowitzki wants to play. He doesn’t see himself as done.

Here is what he told Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“I’m all-in. I want to play,” Nowitzki said in front of his locker after his teammates pulled off the Mavs’ most lopsided win of the season, a 107-82 victory over the Chicago Bulls that improved Dallas’ record to a Western Conference-worst 4-15. “This is obviously not a career-ending injury that I’ve got. It’s something that just keeps lingering unfortunately. I can hopefully get over it.

“There’s still a lot of season left. December just started. We know that there’s a lot of games coming, so hopefully sometime soon I’ll be out there and then stay out there. I don’t want to jump in and out of the lineup with soreness or fight this whole year. I’d love to be healthy and stay out there once I go….

“It’s frustrating for me,” said Nowitzki, a 19-year veteran who has missed more than 10 games in a season only once before in his career. “The whole situation is frustrating to be dealing with something I never have before in my career, so it’s tough. But once I’m out there, I don’t want the same thing to happen again that just happened last week, so I want to make sure now it’s good to go. At this stage of my career, I don’t move well anyways, so if I’m out there at 80-90 percent, I don’t think I’m a big help. I want to make sure my body’s responding the right way and we’ll go from there.”

At this point, Dallas has dug too deep a hole to climb back up and make the playoffs, but Nowitzki doesn’t want the Kobe Bryant send-off tour. When he returns, Dallas will get better.

Watch Nowitzki get in a sweat before a game now — even when he is not playing he puts in a thorough workout — and you see a model for how other players should take both their craft and conditioning more seriously. He is meticulous about the details but is going to get in his work. The problem for him is with an Achilles it’s going to be about rest. He can get treatments, but time is his biggest ally.

Being patient sucks. But that’s where we are with getting to see Nowitzki play again.

Reggie Jackson to return to Pistons lineup Sunday vs. Orlando

AUBURN HILLS, MI - APRIL 24: Reggie Jackson #1 of the Detroit Pistons tries to get around the first quarter defense of Kyrie Irving #2 of the Cleveland Cavaliers in game four of the NBA Eastern Conference quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Palace of Auburn Hills on April 24, 2016 in Auburn Hills, Michigan. 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 Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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The Detroit Pistons’ playoff dreams hinged on them being able to hang around until point guard Reggie Jackson got back from this thumb and knee injuries. They have done just that — the Pistons are 11-10 and would be the eighth seed if the playoffs started today.

And now they get Jackson back. Stan Van Gundy made the announcement Sunday at shootaround, before the team takes on the Orlando Magic.

It will take a few games to get his conditioning back, but this is huge for Detroit. Jackson running the pick-and-roll with Andre Drummond is at the heart of Detroit’s offense – the Pistons were 2.3 points per 100 possessions better with the ball in his hands. Ish Smith played well for the Pistons in his absence — 10.8 points per game, 6.4 assists, and he’s been solid. Move his playmaking to the second unit and suddenly the Pistons become a lot more dangerous.

Jakob Poeltl with huge poster dunk for Raptors. Yes, Jakob Poeltl. (VIDEO)

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The scouting report on Jakob Poeltl coming out of Utah said he could run the floor well and he was a good finisher around the rim.

But we didn’t expect this.

During the Raptors win Sunday against the stumbling Hawks, Poeltl filled the lane on the break, got the rock, and nobody was going to stop that finish. Least of all Tim Hardaway Jr., he just ends up in the poster.