Where does Paul George Injury leave Indiana Pacers’ 2015 Season

paul-george-injury-team-usaNBA All-Star Paul George officially suffered one of the most gruesome sports injuries of all-time this week (see video at bottom). During a Team USA intrasquad scrimmage at UNLV’s Thomas and Mack Center, George went up to contest a layup by James Harden. During the jump, he stretched out his right leg, which bent perpendicular to his body upon landing on the basket stanchion’s base.

The cringe-worthy injury fractured both George’s tibula and fibula, which will likely leave him out for the entire 2014-15 NBA season. So if you already made a 2014 futures bet on the Indiana Pacers, we feel bad for you, although not as badly as for George.

The 24-year-old was vying for a spot on Team USA as they train for the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Rio de Janeiro. He was basically a lock to make the team, and many expected him to start alongside other stars like Kevin Durant and Harden. Now he’ll not only miss the FIBA World Cup, but also be sidelined until next spring or summer.

If there’s one positive to come out of all this, it’s that George remains upbeat, despite his horrific injury. He tweeted, “Thanks everybody for the love and support. I’ll be ok and be back better than ever!!! Love y’all!!” Pacers Team President Larry Bird also tried to put a positive spin on things, while avoiding any predictions on a return. Here’s a look at Bird’s statement:

paul-george-pacersOur first thoughts are with Paul and his family. It is way too early to speculate on his return as the No. 1 priority for everyone will be his recovery. Our initial discussions with our doctors and the doctors in Las Vegas have us very optimistic. We are hopeful at some point next week Paul will return to Indianapolis to continue his recovery.

There is no question about the impact on our team but our goal is to be as strong-willed and determined as Paul will be in coming back.  Our franchise has had setbacks in its history but has demonstrated the abilities to recover. Paul will provide the example of that off the court and it is up to the rest of us to provide that example on the court. Any discussion regarding the future of our team would be inappropriate at this time. Our focus is solely on Paul and doing whatever we can to help.

Now the question is where this leaves Indiana as they enter the 2014-15 NBA season. This was a squad that raced out to first place in the Eastern Conference over the first half of the year. However, they struggled over much of the second half, barely hanging on to the East’s number one seed with a 56-26 record.

The Pacers had numerous troubles in the first round against an inferior Atlanta Hawks team that used a barrage of three-pointers to take a 3-2 series lead. But Atlanta went cold over the last two games, which helped Indiana move on. They played a lot better in a physical semifinals matchup with the Washington Wizards, eventually winning this series 4-2.

Then came the ballyhooed rematch against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. Indiana grabbed a 107-96 victory in Game 1, before losing their last four out of five contests against Miami, including an embarrassing 117-92 loss in Game 6.

After losing Lance Stephenson to Charlotte via free agency this summer, the Pacers were already facing an uphill battle. Now they lose their beat all-around player in George, who averaged 21.7 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 3.5 APG and 1.9 SPG last season. Furthermore, they’ll miss the 13.8 PPG, 7.2 RPG and 4.6 APG that Stephenson contributed in 2013. So where does this leave Indiana moving forward?

Pacers Core and New Additions

roy-hibbertThe cupboard isn’t bare, however, it is far from stocked. They return David West (14 PPG, 6.8 RPG), Roy Hibbert (10.8 PPG, 2.25 BPG) and George Hill (10.3 PPG, 3.7 RPG). These three figure to make up the core of Indiana’s team this season.

Indiana added former Cleveland Cavaliers swingman C.J. Miles this offseason. Miles only played 19.3 minutes a game while coming off the bench for Cleveland. However, he definitely made those minutes count, averaging 9.9 PPG and shooting 39.3% from beyond the arc. He may have a far bigger role with Indiana due to George’s injury.

Damjan Rudez is another interesting addition to the Pacers’ roster. The 6’10” Yugoslavian is mainly an outsider shooter in the same mold of Hedo Turkoglu. Rudez is a weird fit for coach Frank Vogel’s system because he’s not a great defender. But the small forward was a really good player overseas, and he could help make up for George’s missing offense.

rodney-stuckey-indiana-pacersAs many NBA fans are aware of, the Pacers quickly added Rodney Stuckey after losing Stephenson in mid July. Stuckey was once looked at as a future building block for the Detroit Pistons. Unfortunately, he’s never been able to develop a consistent three-point shot, hitting just 28.3% of his shots from beyond the arc. But what Stuckey can do is get to the rim and score, or at least draw a foul. He scored 13.9 PPG last season for Detroit and hit 83.6% of his free throws. So this production will be crucial as he likely steps into a starting shooting guard role for Indiana in 2014.

How does Indiana finish without George?

It’s not a given that Paul George will miss the entire NBA season. And as Bird alluded to, it’s difficult to put a timetable on a return until more is known following surgery. So George could return in time for the playoffs and give Indiana a huge boost. However, if you’re planning on doing some Indiana Pacers betting this season, keep in mind that they’re definitely no postseason lock.

This is a team of good pieces that were centered around George. Now that the 6’8″ swingman is missing, somebody will have to step up just to make Indiana a legitimate playoff team. West is 33, Hibbert can’t stay consistent for long stretches and Hill’s numbers regressed from last year.

Plus there’s the loss of Stephenson, who, beyond his weird playoff antics, was arguably the Pacers second best player. Neither Lance nor George can really be replaced heading into the season. However, with Vogel as coach and some players who know how to win, grabbing the sixth or seventh seed in the Eastern Conference isn’t totally out of the question. Where they go from here largely depends on if George can make it back before the spring.

Kevin Durant: A Superstar worth Betting on in the Playoffs

kevin-durant-playoffs-starThe Oklahoma Thunder had a rough ending to last season. Despite earning the Western Conference’s top seed, they were bounced in the second round of the playoffs by the defensive-minded Memphis Grizzlies. Sure, Russell Westbrook was out with an injury, but it still didn’t feel good losing the series 4-1, despite having home court advantage.

Taking all of this into account, the Thunder got some sweet revenge by polishing off the Grizzlies in Game 7 of their first-round series. And who was leading the charge? None other than Kevin Durant.

The team’s superstar showed up when everything was on the line as he scored 33 points and delivered knockout blow after knockout blow in the 120-109 victory. Oh, and might we add that he nailed all five of his three-point attempts.

This was definitely a boost for a guy who’d taken so much criticism earlier in the series. And to be fair, the criticism wasn’t totally unwarranted as Durant was shooting pretty poorly and being face guarded by Tony Allen. Yes, the points were there, but his shot volume was also sky high. After the first six games, he was just 61-of-148 from the field and 12-of-48 from the three-point line (25%). An Oklahoma city newspaper headline was quick to dub him “Mr. Unreliable.”

kevin-durant-playoffs-star-1However, “The Second Coming” rebounded to go 12-for-18 in Game 7, with the aforementioned five three’s. “I got out of my own way,” Durant said. “I was thinking too much. I was worrying about what [the media] was saying. I was worrying about what shots I was going to shoot throughout the game.”

In the end, it wasn’t his shot or showing up Allen that propelled Durant to an exceptional performance in the deciding game. Instead, as Thunder point guard Derek Fisher points out, it was showing up for his teammates. “Kevin wasn’t worried about getting his shot, or his points, he was worried about letting the guys in the locker room down,” Fisher said. “For him, that was the hardest part. He felt like he was letting guys down as the franchise player, as the leader. Every great player goes through it at some point, all of them. There starts to be some doubt. There starts to be criticism all around you. There’s second-guessing. They all do – and Kevin worked his way right out of it.”

As Durant showed during this series, he doesn’t let all of the talk or previous struggles keep him from performing when everything’s on the line. So what if a paper from his own city dubs him Mr. Unreliable or he’s missing countless shots from downtown. That said, anybody who’s betting on Oklahoma City to win, or just engaging in live wagering on Durant’s play, can definitely take comfort in knowing that they’re picking a winner.

kevin-durant-playoffs-star--2As for their next challenge, they take on the emotional Clippers, who topped the Golden State Warriors in a hard-fought series that was marred by owner Donald Sterling’s racist comments. Much like the Thunder, L.A. boasts a very talented team. And this will be a high-scoring affair since Oklahoma averages 106.2 PPG while the Clippers pour in 107.9 PPG. One more similarity between these teams is that they feature some top-flight stars, with the Thunder having the Durant/Westbrook duo and L.A. featuring the Chris Paul/Blake Griffin combo.

The key difference could be defense, which Oklahoma City plays better than L.A. And while both of these squads are exiting emotional series, the weary Clippers battled through adversity created by Sterling and an overly physical series with Golden State. This is a close one to call, but when you also throw home court into the equation, we like the Thunder in seven games.

Kevin Durant on Kobe Bryant: “He’s the Greatest of All-Time”

kobe-bryantMany fans and players alike agree that Michael Jordan was the greatest NBA player of all-time. His stats and achievements definitely don’t do anything to dissuade this argument either:

– 6-time NBA champion
– 6-time NBA Finals MVP
– 5-time MVP
– 10-time NBA scoring champion
– 30.1 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 5.3 APG

Above all, Jordan was regarded as a fierce competitor who refused to back down or lose. But even with everything that MJ has going for him in the greatest player department, there are some other players who could lay claim to this prestigious billing too. Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant are some of the first names that come up in this debate.

Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant recently cast his vote for which of these players he thinks is the best. Durant, who’s definitely our favorite for this year’s MVP award, told Los Angeles Daily Times reporter Mark Medina why he tabs the Black Mamba as the best in a recent interview. Here’s one excerpt from the conversation:

Of course. He’s the greatest of all time. His skill is second to none. Him and [Michael Jordan] are neck and neck as far as skill. You can put in athleticism and be the best passer and strongest and quickest. But it’s about skill. I think that’s how his game is played. That’s why Kobe is the top two best ever in just having skill, footwork, shooting the three, shooting the pull up, posting up, dunking on guys and ball handling. It’s flat out skill. Him and Jordan are 1 and 1A. They’re neck and neck as far as the skills are concerned.”

kevin-durantKobe plays his game no matter what with his intensity and focus and he will play to win. He also will do what he needs to do to get ready to play. If he sees a mismatch, he’ll take it down low and demand the ball. He’s one of those guys who will always bring the same intensity every time no matter who’s on the court.

In another answer, Durant said that he and Bryant have a mutual respect for each other’s games, though there’s a lot of on-court trash talking going on. “We’re going to talk (junk) to each other,” he told Medina. “I think he appreciates that’s how I play. I may be wrong. But I can sense when a guy has that mutual respect. I don’t give a damn who he is. He don’t give a damn who I am. We’re going to go at it. You can throw the names out the door. The guy in front of me, I will try to kick his (butt). He’ll do the same with me.”

Durant obviously looks to Bryant as something of a mentor too since he rehashed calling Bryant at 3 am during the Olympics one night. Stating that Kobe’s a night owl, Durant said he was “picking his (Bryant’s) brain a little bit” about how he should handle certain situations and his teammates during games.

Bryant is definitely a good guy to talk to about anything that’s basketball-related. The 35-year-old has won 5 NBA championships, two NBA Finals MVP awards and two scoring titles. He also boasts career stats of 25.3 PPG, 5.3 RPG and 4.8 APG. Comparing these numbers to Jordan’s, it’s a little hard to give Kobe the nod as the NBA’s all-time greatest player. But he’s done enough to win Durant’s vote and respect as well.

Speaking of Durant again, if he continues at the current rate, we may one day be throwing his name into the best all-time player debate. After six years in the league, the 25-year-old is really beginning to take flight, averaging 31.8 PPG, 7.6 RPG and 5.6 APG. Durant looks like the front-runner to win the 2014 MVP award, especially since his Thunder are 48-17 and looking like a serious title contender.

Getting through a crowded Western Conference playoffs bracket won’t be any picnic. But if Durant can guide his team to a championship, he’ll move a lot closer to cementing his legacy as one of the NBA’s greatest players.

2014 NBA All-Star Rosters set – 7 First-Time Players make Cut

lamarcus-aldridge-all-star-gameThe 2014 NBA All-Star reserves were recently announced, which means that we now have complete teams to discuss. In all, seven players received their first ever All-Star selection, with Stephen Curry both getting his first nod and a starting role thanks to the fan vote.

Other first-time players who’ll be joining Curry on the Western Conference team include LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard and Anthony Davis. The latter will be taking Kobe Bryant’s place on the team since he’s injured and can’t play. Lillard is not only playing in his first All-Star game, but also competing in four other contests over the weekend. As for Aldridge, he’s not only a first-time All-Star, but also a legitimate MVP candidate this year.

Moving to the Eastern Conference, first-time selections include DeMar DeRozan, Paul Millsap and John Wall. Now in his fifth year, DeRozan really seems to have stepped his game up while averaging 22 PPG and leading Toronto to the top of the Atlantic Division. Millsap, who’s spent most of his career in the West, seems to be enjoying his change of scenery in Atlanta. And Wall has now reached the potential that everybody predicted for him coming out of Kentucky.

Now that we’ve covered the first-timers in the 2014 NBA All-Star game, let’s take a quick look at the complete rosters, with stats included.

* = Starter
+ = Injured player

Eastern Conference All-Stars

* F Carmelo Anthony, New York – 27.3 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 3.0 APG
* F Paul George, Indiana – 22.7 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 3.4 APG
* F LeBron James, Miami – 26.3 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 6.6 APG
* G Kyrie Irving, Cleveland – 21.4 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 6.4 APG
* G Dwayne Wade, Miami – 18.7 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 4.7 APG
F/C Chris Bosh, Miami – 16.6 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.1 APG
G DeMar DeRozan, Toronto – 22.0 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 3.8 APG
C Roy Hibbert, Indiana – 12.2 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 1.1 APG
G Joe Johnson, Nets – 15.4 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.7 APG
F Paul Millsap, Atlanta – 17.7 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 2.9 APG
C Joakim Noah, Chicago – 11.5 PPG, 11.3 RPG, 4.2 APG
G John Wall, Washington – 20.0 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 8.5 APG

Western Conference

* F Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City – 31.0 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 5.3 APG
* F Blake Griffin, LA Clippers – 23.7 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 3.5 APG
* F Kevin Love, Minnesota – 25.6 PPG, 13.3 RPG, 4.0 APG
*+ G Kobe Bryant, LA Lakers – 13.8 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 6.3 APG
* Stephen Curry, Golden State – 24.5 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 9.1 APG
F/C LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland – 24.1 PPG, 11.6 RPG, 2.8 APG
F/C Anthony Davis, New Orleans – 20.7 PPG, 10.4 RPG, 1.4 APG
G James Harden, Houston – 23.8 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 5.4 APG
C Dwight Howard, Houston – 18.6 PPG, 12.4 RPG, 1.7 APG
G Damian Lillard, Portland – 20.9 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 5.8 APG
F Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas – 21.9 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 2.8 APG
G Tony Parker, San Antonio – 18.1 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 6.3 APG
G Chris Paul, LA Clippers – 19.6 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 11.2 APG

Kevin Durant: The Obvious MVP Choice in 2014

kevin-durant-mvpThere are several players who have made legitimate cases for the Most Valuable Player award this season.

There is of course reigning MVP and two-time defending NBA champion LeBron James, who’s averaging 26.8 PPG, 6.8 RPG and 6.5 APG. There’s LaMarcus Aldridge, who’s helped Portland climb to the West’s third seed amid averaging 24.3 PPG and 11.6 RPG. Then there is Blake Griffin, who has carried the Clippers in the absence of Chris Paul with 23.3 PPG and 9.7 RPG. And we can’t leave Paul George out of this discussion either since he’s got the Pacers atop the East on the strength of his 22.7 PPG and 6.4 RPG. But as good as these guys have been, none of them come even close to Kevin Durant this season.

An easy place place to start here is the numbers. Durant is averaging 31.1 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 5.3 APG and 1.5 SPG. What’s particularly impressive about Durant’s scoring average is how efficient he’s been, shooting 41.3% from the three-point line and 51.2% overall.

kevin-durantLooking past the numbers, you can also point to what Durant has helped his team do. Currently, the Oklahoma City Thunder have the league’s best overall record at 39-11. Sure, this is only a game better than Indiana, but the way Oklahoma is playing, there’s little reason to believe that they won’t stay in their lofty position. Assuming this does indeed happen, there’s little reason to give anybody else the 2014 NBA MVP award.

Of course, you can never count out a champion. And this is exactly the case that LeBron is still trying to make. His Heat maintain a very respectable 34-13 record, which is 4.5 games behind the Thunder. But the rebuttal to this is that Durant’s averaging more points, rebounds, steals and blocks than James – plus his team’s record is better.

Now does this mean Oklahoma City will go on to win the NBA title? The Pacers, Heat and Spurs will definitely have something to say about this. But if everything stays on the same course, Durant can at least be sure of winning his first career MVP award.

2014 NBA All-Star Game to feature 4 First-Time Starters

paul-george-pacersThere’s not normally a lot of turnover when it comes to NBA All-Star game starters. Fans usually vote big-name veterans in as starters, whether they’re injured or healthy. Case in point, Kobe Bryant has played all of six games this season, but he was still voted into the All-Star contest.

Speaking of which, Bryant had previously said that the game needs to feature some younger players. And he’ll get his wish because four first-time All-Stars were also voted in as starters too. Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, Paul George and Stephen Curry all garnered enough fan votes to start in their first All-Star contest.

Many were surprised that Curry wasn’t selected as a starter or reserve last year. But he won’t have to worry about that this season after garnering lots of fan votes. Love is another interesting story because he passed Dwight Howard just before the voting closed. “Hey, I’m popular now,” Love said jokingly. “It’s very humbling to me to be starting in the All-Star game. I tip my hat to the fans in the Twin Cities and all over Minnesota and beyond.”

stephen-curryIt’s little surprise that George was voted in as a starter. He’s led Indiana to the league’s best record so far and is averaging 23.3 PPG, 6.2 RPG and 3.4 APG. Kyrie Irving has also put up some very solid numbers, with 21.7 PPG, 6.1 APG and 3.0 RPG. Amidst a weak crop of Eastern Conference point guards, Irving definitely stands out, even with the Cleveland Cavaliers’ struggles.

The 2014 NBA All-Star reserves will be announced on January 30th, two weeks before the game takes place on February 16th in New Orleans. We’ll cover the entire All-Star game rosters when they’re released, but for now, here’s a look at the starters.

Eastern Conference

Kyrie Irving, PG Cleveland Cavaliers – 21.7 PPG, 6.1 APG, 3.0 RPG
Dwayne Wade, SG Miami Heat – 18.9 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 4.7 APG
Paul George, SF Indiana Pacers – 23.3 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 3.4 APG
LeBron James, SF Miami Heat – 26.2 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 6.5 APG
Carmelo Anthony, SF New York Knicks – 26.1 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 3.1 APG

Western Conference

Stephen Curry, PG Golden State Warriors – 23.5 PPG, 9.2 APG, 4.6 RPG
Kobe Bryant, SG Los Angeles Lakers – 13.8 PPG, 6.3 APG, 4.3 RPG
Kevin Durant, SF Oklahoma City Thunder – 31.0 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 5.1 APG
Blake Griffin, PF Los Angeles Clippers – 22.6 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 3.5 APG
Kevin Love, PF Minnesota Timberwolves – 25.0 PPG, 13.0 RPG, 4.1 APG