In spite of it all, Indiana may have home court throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Which is huge — at home in recent weeks they have beaten the Miami Heat and now Oklahoma City Thunder, but they are a 20-20 team on the road. If they still have dreams of the NBA Finals they needed a Game 7 vs. Miami at home. Now they get that with a win Wednesday vs. Orlando (or a Miami loss in its final two games).
Indiana has that chance because of a hard-fought 102-97 win over the Thunder Sunday.
Most important, they looked better on offense and more like their old selves. Like the version of themselves that was a title contender.
David West was overpowering inside and had 21 points on 11 shots. Paul George had 20 points and hit a key three over Kevin Durant late (plus he hit one when the game was tied). Lance Stephenson had 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting and was knocking down shots and mugging for the camera. C.J. Watson — who had missed considerable time during the Pacers’ slump due to hamstring and elbow issues — was back adding scoring punch off the bench and putting up 20 points. As a team the Pacers shot 52.8 percent.
That shooting let the Pacers get away with turning the ball over of 24.2 percent of their possessions. That kind of sloppy play will get them in trouble most days.
The Pacers defense also was in good form and held one of the best offenses in the NBA to 42.9 percent shooting and 4.2 points per 100 below their season average.
The first half of the game was at a tempo the Thunder should have liked, but they never really got it going.
One key reason they missed their threes — 7-of-28 as a team. Kevin Durant was 2-of-11 from deep, Russell Westbrook 3-of-10. Durant finished with 37 points, Westbrook had 21 points on 23 shots.
One win will not change the Pacers slump around, but it has to start somewhere. This win — and home court through the Eastern Conference — is a good start.
DALLAS (AP) — Dallas Mavericks rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. missed Friday’s game against the Sacramento Kings with swelling in his left knee.
Smith, the ninth pick in the NBA draft out of North Carolina State, had 16 points and 10 assists in the Mavericks’ season-opening loss to the Atlanta Hawks.
Smith participated in the Mavericks’ shootaround on Friday morning and was a late scratch. It is not known if Smith will play Saturday for Dallas.
The Mavericks were also missing guard Devin Harris, who was granted leave of absence after his brother died on Thursday.
This was more of what fans expected from Lonzo Ball.
After a rough first game against the Clippers — with Patrick Beverley in his face all night — Ball found plenty of room to operate against the soft defense of the Phoenix Suns. With room to operate Ball had 29 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists — just one assist short of a triple-double. He helped the Lakers pull away to a lead in the third then hold on for a 132-130 win over the Suns.
Ball wasn’t terribly efficient, 12-of-27 shooting, but he was 4-of-9 from three, he played with great pace, he was decisive, and was finding guys with his passes. It was a step forward, even if it was against a sad defense (Eric Bledsoe can be a good defender, but he has seemed disinterested in recent years).
Ball and the Lakers are going to be up and down this season, the goal is for there to be more ups near the end of the season.
Through the first couple games of the season, Giannis Antetokounmpo has put up impressive numbers — he dropped 34 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists on the Cavaliers Friday night.
But the Cavaliers still have LeBron James.
He had 24 points and 8 assists, leading Cleveland to the win.
LeBron also reminded the Greek Freak just how good a rim protector he is. Few people can slow Antetokounmpo on the drive, but LeBron is one of them.
Is it too early to root for a Cavs vs. Bucks playoff series?
In their season opener Wednesday, Atlanta second-year man DeAndre’ Bembry came off the bench and played 17:45, scored six points and was +13 on the night. It was a good start to his career.
But now he is going to miss some time with a fractured wrist.
Bembry underwent an MRI, which revealed a fracture in his right wrist, the Hawks announced Friday. He will return to Atlanta with the team (the Hawks lost to the Hornets Friday night) and will meet with team doctors at the Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center on Monday. His status will be updated after that.
“We just may play some other guys more, we may use some of the young guys,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer told the AP before Friday night’s game. “We’ll just figure it out tonight and as we move forward. I don’t think there’s anything guaranteed for anybody, it’s unfortunate for DeAndre’ and for us.”