On the Pacers: Indy Cornrows / 8 points, 9 seconds
The streaking Pacers look to make it seven wins in eight games when they visit Milwaukee against the slumping Bucks, who will be hoping to win their seventh straight against Indiana and make up ground in the Eastern playoff picture.
The Pacers' last trip to Milwaukee ended in a buzzer-beating tip-in from Andrew Bogut.
En Vogel. The Pacers have won six of seven since Frank Vogel took over for Jim O'Brien a couple weeks ago, their only loss coming by five in Miami on Tuesday. Most of those wins came against the league's lesser lights (Toronto, Charlotte, Cleveland, New Jersey, and Minnesota), but that's more than the Bucks can claim. Statistically the Pacer defense has been their meal ticket most of the season, but the big difference since Vogel took over has been on the offensive end, where the Pacers have cracked 100 points in all seven games since the change at the helm.
Basketball Jones. Dahntay Jones and A.J. Price were the unlikely fourth quarter heroes against the Timberwolves last night, as Jones scored all 19 of his points in the decisive quarter and Price adding eight points in a 10-3 run to start the period. With Brandon Rush on the shelf with a sprained ankle, Jones has seen a bump in minutes and cracked double figures in three of the last four games after failing to do so in the Pacers' first 41 games.
Schedule. The Wolves were without Michael Beasley, Luke Ridnour and Darko last night, but the important thing was that Indiana got it done and moved 2.5 games ahead of the Bobs and 3.5 games ahead of the Bucks for the 8th spot in the East. We've talked a lot about schedules of late, so it's worth noting that Indiana has 15 of their final 31 at home, Charlotte has 14 of their final 29 games at home, and the Bucks have 18 of their final 30 at the Bradley Center.
McBobs. Josh McRoberts doesn't like to smile, but the former McDonald's All-American has finally found a niche in the NBA. McBobs does a bit of everything for the Pacers; solid defender, good passer for his size, and has posted an excellent 58.0% true shooting mark so far this season. Foul trouble made him a non-factor in the teams' first meeting in Indiana, but he posted a tidy 8/7/5 line when the Pacers last visited in December.
Ersan. His counterpart Ersan Ilyasova has come back down to earth a bit after a good month of January (.521/.333/.903 shooting and 11.8 ppg/6.9 rpg in 27.5 mpg), having made just 11/31 fg over the past four games (6.0 ppg). Key to Ilyasova's resurgence has been his mid-range jumper, which he's hitting at a career-high 49% clip (vs. 41.0% last year). But for whatever reason that silky touch from outside hasn't extended beyond 23'9"--he's still hitting just 29.5% from three.
Brandon's trajectory. We've had some debate in the comments of late about the value of Brandon Jennings, and to me the main concern is his lack of clear development since his breakout rookie season. Clearly Brandon isn't close to elite status at this point, but at just 21 years old there's room for improvement--we just haven't seen any of it yet. For better or worse, Jennings' numbers are nearly identical to his freshman campaign, with his improvements around the rim (50.8% vs. 42.7% last year) being offset by lower efficiency from three and on long twos (30% vs. 34%). He's surprisingly excellent at taking care of the ball (among starters only D.J. Augustin, Derek Fisher, and Mike Bibby have a lower turnover rate), but he also creates few easy scores for teammates.
So do the Bucks struggle to score because Jennings doesn't know how to run an offense, or are Jennings' numbers hurt by the lack of support he's gotten from teammates? The answer is probably somewhere in between. Bogut and Salmons have suffered major dropoffs from where they were a year ago, and I don't think Jennings can be blamed for that. But Jennings also continues to show an inflated opinion of his own scoring ability while creating relatively few easy points for everyone else. So long as the Bucks are near the bottom of the league in scoring efficiency, the team's point guard is going to deserve some of the blame.