In a conference otherwise dealing with wacky results and awkward upheaval, Paul George, Roy Hibbert and the Indiana Pacers have managed to pick up right where they left off last season. Indiana has opened the season executing the same dominant defensive scheme they used to push LeBron James and the Miami Heat to the brink of elimination in the 2013 NBA Playoffs. A perfect 8-0 start has been punctuated by excellent play from Roy Hibbert (4.4 blocks per game!) and Paul George (24.9 pts/gm, 61.1% TS), and scorching long-distance shooting from Lance Stephenson (51.4% 3PT on 4.4 att/gm).
The Pacers love to slow teams down, beat them up in the half court, and capitalize on turnovers and shots erased by Hibbert in the paint. They're like the Fear the Deer Bucks on steroids, thanks to the growth of Paul George as a creator and offensive weapon. It will be very interesting to see how John Henson, Nate Wolters, Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo react to the physical brand of basketball imposed by Indiana, because the members of the young Milwaukee core will likely be staring up at the Pacers in the standings for the next several years.
For more on the Pacers' defense, here's an excerpt from a Tom Lewis post at SB Nation's team blog, Indy Cornrows:
The Indiana Pacers have the best defense in the NBA when you boil it down to the bottom-line defensive rating which currently has the Pacers ranked atop the league giving up just 89.5 points per 100 possession. The Pacers are the only team with a defensive rating below 90 and the number is a full four points lower than the second-best defensive team (San Antonio).
The Pacers starting unit is especially stingy, combining high-octane effort and physical play with length, athletic ability and major wingspans across the board. This five is never too cool to spill their guts on the defensive end and that type of play begins to wear on the guys their defending.
Indiana has been overwhelming opponents in the second half and in particular, ambushing teams in the third quarter which wobbles the legs for an eventual knock out by the end of the game.
The last bit is interesting because as we know, the Bucks have typically been at their best in the third and fourth quarters of games. If they can keep things close in the first half -- which has been an endless struggle for every new starting unit -- maybe they can make a push and put some late-game pressure on Indy. Then again, Milwaukee is especially banged up for this contest, and things could easily fall apart quickly. It probably depends on how motivated Indiana is at the outset of the contest.
The injury report helps explain why it's an uphill battle for the Bucks:
- Out: Danny Granger (strained calf), Caron Butler (shoulder AC sprain), Carlos Delfino (post-surgery, right foot), Ersan Ilyasova (sore ankle), Larry Sanders (thumb and dumb).
- Questionable: Brandon Knight (sore hamstring), Gary Neal (sore foot), Luke Ridnour (back spasms), Zaza Pachulia (sore foot).
Pachulia, Ridnour and Neal all expected to be available tonight. Butler, Delfino, Sanders and Ilyasova are out. Knight is doubtful #MILvIND— Bucks PR (@BucksPR) November 15, 2013