Paul George carrying Indiana Pacers Right Now

paul-george-pacersLast season was a rough one for the Indiana Pacers, as they finished 38-44 and missed the playoffs, bringing an end to four straight postseason appearances. But this was understandable given that Indiana was missing one key piece: Paul George.

The smooth, 6’9″ forward missed almost all of the 2014-15 season with a lower-right leg injury, and many wondered if he’d be the same this year. Well, we’re only 9 games into the 2015-16 NBA season, but George definitely looks to be his old self since he’s singlehandedly keeping the Pacers in the Eastern Conference race.

Nowhere was this more apparent than in a recent game against the Boston Celtics, which George took over in the second half. He scored several times early in the third quarter to help Indiana take the lead. Then, with the game on the line, George used his size to shoot over 6’4″ Marcus Smart, who’s one of the league’s best on-the-ball-defenders. The end result was a 102-91 victory for Indiana in what was a pretty close game until midway through the fourth quarter.

“It’s my job to go out there and perform,” said George, who scored 26 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. “I take a lot of pride in being our leader. I take pride in the outcome of games. I’m going to bring it, night in and night out. I’m going to be the guy that’s always going to bring it.”

Indiana is very much a team in transition, as they got rid of 7’2″ center Roy Hibbert and locker-room-leader David West over the offseason. They also signed Monta Ellis and spaced out their offense to allow their smaller lineup more driving opportunities. And it’s pretty clear that having a special player like George makes this transition much easier to make.

paul-george-pacers“We believe we’re putting him in position to have the best season of his career,” said Indiana head coach Frank Vogel. “Playing with a little more space, a little more tempo, we think offensively is going to help him explode onto the scene and take his game to an even higher level, while still having the flexibility to play with bigger lineups when we need to.”

The numbers say everything so far, with George averaging 23.8 PPG, 8.8 RPG and 4.7 APG – all of which would be career highs if he keeps this up. And what’s interesting is that the 25-year-old still thinks he has some room to grow this season.

“My skillset, everything on the court has been there,” George explained. “I feel like with a year away from the game I was able to rehab and really focus on myself. I’m still trying to gain that little bit back physically. I’m not all the way there. Leg endurance, the foot speed, the explosiveness. That’s the little bit that has to come back.”

Despite George’s excellent season and Indiana’s relevance in the East so far, there is still work to be done. Right now their spread offense only amounts to 95.3 PPG, which ranks 27th in the league. And while much of this can be attributed to the fact that the Pacers’ identity is that of a half-court defensive team, George knows that improvement must be made.

“Still trying to figure this thing out,” he said. “Still trying to figure out floor spacing. Where I can get shots, where I can get aggressive, where I can be a playmaker. There’s still so much to unravel.”

The Pacers haven’t gotten many breaks in their schedule so far, taking on the likes of Toronto, Memphis, Utah, Detroit, Miami and Cleveland in the early going. But Indiana has a chance to shoot up the standings a little since four out of their next seven opponents have losing records. And even when the Pacers play the tougher teams, George gives them a chance to win on any given night.

2015 NBA Playoffs Betting: Indiana, Brooklyn, OKC and New Orleans seek Final Spots

indiana-paul-georgeThe 2015 NBA Playoffs are about to begin, and the postseason picture is about as clear now as it was to start the season. Only one playoff series – East No. 2 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. No. 7 Boston Celtics – is set right now. So, if you’re into NBA Playoffs betting, you’ll have to wait to do any real research until after today.

After all, today represents the final day of the 2015 regular season. And some of the most-intense action will involve Indiana and Brooklyn battling for the final postseason spot in the Eastern Conference, and Oklahoma City and New Orleans fighting for the West’s last slot.

Beyond teams clawing for No. 8 seeds in both conferences, seven out of the eight series are still yet to be determined. Yes, the playoff picture is very clouded less than 24 hours before all seeding will be finalized. But if you’re looking for some clarification, here are all the scenarios that could play out with each postseason slot.

lebron-jamesEastern Conference (Right Now)
No. 1 Atlanta Hawks (60-21)
No. 2 Cleveland Cavaliers (52-29)
No. 3 Chicago Bulls (49-32)
No. 4 Toronto Raptors (48-33)
No. 5 Washington Wizards (46-35)
No. 6 Milwaukee Bucks (41-40)
No. 7 Boston Celtics (39-42)
No. 8 Indiana Pacers (38-43) or Brooklyn Nets (37-44)

Here’s what needs to be decided in the East
vs. Atlanta at 8:00 p.m. ET
– No. 3 if they beat Atlanta OR Toronto loses to the Charlotte Hornets
– No. 4 if they lose to the Hawks AND the Raptors beat Charlotte

Toronto vs. Charlotte at 7:00 p.m. ET
– No. 3 if they win against the Hornets AND the Bulls lose to the Hawks
– No. 4 if they lose to Charlotte OR the Bulls beat the Hawks

Indiana @ Memphis Grizzlies at 9:30 p.m. ET
– No. 8 if they win against Memphis OR the Nets lose to Orlando
– Eliminated if they lose to the Grizzlies AND the Nets win against the Magic

Brooklyn vs. Orlando at 8:00 p.m. ET
– No. 8 if they beat the Magic AND the Pacers lose to Memphis
– Eliminated if they lose against the Magic OR the Pacers beat the Grizzlies

stephen-curryWestern Conference (Right Now)
No. 1 Golden State (66-15)
No. 2 LA Clippers (56-26)
No. 3 San Antonio Spurs (55-26)
No. 4 Portland Trailblazers (51-30)
No. 5 Houston Rockets (55-26)
No. 6 Memphis Grizzlies (54-27)
No. 7 Dallas Mavericks (49-32)
No. 8 New Orleans (44-37)

Here’s what needs to be decided in the West
Los Angeles;
season finished
– No. 2 if the Spurs lose against New Orleans AND the Rockets get beat by the Utah Jazz
– No. 3 if the Spurs beat the Pelicans OR the Rockets lose against the Jazz

San Antonio @ New Orleans at 8:00 p.m. ET
– No. 2 if Spurs win against the Pelicans
– No. 3 if they lose against the Pelicans AND the Rockets lose to Utah
– No. 5 if they get beat by the Pelicans AND the Rockets win against the Jazz AND the Grizzlies lose to the Pacers
– No. 6 if they lose against the Pelicans AND the Rockets beat the Jazz AND the Grizzlies win against the Pacers

Houston vs. Utah at 8:00 p.m. ET
– No. 2 if Rockets win against Utah AND the Spurs lose to New Orleans
– No. 5 if they beat the Jazz AND the Spurs lose against the Pelicans; OR if they lose against the Jazz AND the Grizzlies lose to the Pacers
– No. 6 if they lose to the Jazz AND the Grizzlies beat the Pacers

zach-randolphMemphis vs. Indiana at 9:30 p.m. ET
– No. 5 if Grizzlies win against the Pacers AND the Rockets lose to Utah; OR if they beat the Pacers AND the Rockets win against the Jazz AND the Spurs lose to the Pelicans
– No. 6 if they get beat by the Pacers; OR if they win against the Pacers AND the Rockets beat the Jazz AND the Spurs win against New Orleans

New Orleans vs. San Antonio at 8:00 p.m. ET
– No. 8 if they beat the Spurs OR the Thunder lose to Minnesota
– Eliminated if they lose to the Spurs AND the Thunder beat the Timberwolves

Oklahoma City @ Minnesota Timberwolves at 8:00 p.m. ET
– No. 8 if Thunder beat the Timberwolves AND the Pelicans lose against San Antonio
– Eliminated if they lose against Minnesota OR the Pelicans win against the Spurs

It’s impossible to tell what’s going to happen on this final day of the regular season. But at least after tonight, the postseason matchups will be cleared up and you’ll be able to do some serious 2015 NBA Playoffs betting.

What will the Pacers do with Lance Stephenson?

lance-stephenson-lebron-ear-blowGoing into the 2014 NBA Playoffs, Lance Stephenson was already getting questionable looks from Indiana Pacers management. After all, he did get into a fist fight with teammate Evan Turner. Now, after Stephenson’s antics in the Miami Heat series, Indiana is likely to wonder even more if they should think about bringing the pending free agent back for another season.

Anybody who paid minimal attention to the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals matchup saw headlines about Stephenson blowing in LeBron James’ ear during a play like they were long-lost lovers. He also touched LeBron’s face during an inbounds play and “inadvertently” smacked Norris Cole in the face. Referees didn’t see the latter as an accident, though, and called Stephenson for a flagrant foul.

Of course, the idea behind all of this – at least in the 23-year-old’s mind – was to get in James’ head. But all of these antics just served as the extra motivation that Miami needed to finish Indiana off in six games, with the final contest being a 117-92 blowout. And as for Stephenson’s effect, well, King James responded by scoring 25 points on 8-of-12 shooting in Game 6 – most of which came against his antagonist in just 31 minutes.

Following his aggravating maneuvers, Team President Larry Bird didn’t exactly approve of the ear-blowing. And Indiana’s leading scorer, Paul George, was less than enthusiastic about Stephenson’s future with the team. “I mean, I don’t know,” George said. “That’s for Larry (Bird), (GM) Kevin (Pritchard), for them to decide. You know, it’d be great. We came in this league together. It’d be great for us to continue our journey together.”

lance-stephenson-lebron-1One more thing worth mentioning here is that popular speculation and rumors pointed to Stephenson as a player who hurt the team’s chemistry during their terrible spring regular-season run. For instance, Roy Hibbert said “there’s some selfish dudes” in the locker room, with “dudes” thought to mean Stephenson.

From all of this talk, you’d think that there was no chance he’d be back in a Pacers uniform next year. But that might not necessarily be the case because there’s some definite upside to the four-year veteran.

Welcome Back

While Stephenson’s antics may be getting all of the attention right now, he’s certainly a very talented player. The 6’5″ shooting guard posted regular-season averages of 13.8 PPG, 7.2 RPG and 4.6 APG. He also led the NBA with six triple-doubles, something that many NBA fans may not realize.

Even with the intense pressure of the NBA Playoffs, Stephenson held steady by averaging 13.8 PPG, 7.1 RPG and 4.4 APG. So you can see why both Bird and coach Frank Vogel recently said that they’d like to have Stephenson back if they can afford the guard. Here’s a look at what AP writer Michael Marot wrote about the matter:

 lance-stephenson-lebron-2Larry Bird wants Lance Stephenson back with the Indiana Pacers at the right price. After spending the last week hearing Stephenson roundly criticized for his over-the-top antics with LeBron James in the Eastern Conference finals, Bird said Monday he hopes Stephenson stays with the team, headaches and all.

“I think his ceiling is what he wants it to be,” said Bird, the Pacers’ president of basketball operations. “I always want him back. You just don’t let talent like that walk away if you can help it.”

[cont’d later] “Clearly, he’s a free agent, and I’m certainly hoping that he’s back,” Vogel said, later acknowledging he played the role of team psychologist more this year than any previous year.

Up in the Air

Despite Stephenson wearing thin on teammates and top brass at times, it appears that he’s wanted back. However, the murkiest part of this situation is how much Stephenson will command in the free agent market.

On the right team, Stephenson has the talent to average upwards of 20 PPG. He’s also an exceptional rebounder for his size and position – even if teammates sometimes see him as a rebound-stealer. With the Pacers expected to be $8 million to $12 million under the luxury tax threshold, it’s unclear how much money they can offer the former Cincinnati product. Assuming he commands a much larger contract from another team, it’s hard to see him coming back to Indiana.

But based on the way this season’s playoffs went, the Pacers won’t give up hope if they can’t bring Stephenson back.

Indiana gets past Atlanta – Now What?

indiana-paul-georgeDown 3-2 in their first-round series, Indiana stormed back to win their final two games against the Atlanta Hawks and avoid an upset of catastrophic proportions.

Looking at the statistics, you could say that the Hawks beat themselves more than the Pacers did anything to stop them. Relying on a heavy long-range attack to beat the East’s top seed, this strategy worked well for Atlanta in the first five games. However, it also became their undoing as they shot just 20-of-79 from the three-point line (25.3%) over the final two games.

Indiana’s 92-80 Game 7 victory was especially crazy since the Hawks hoisted a playoff record-breaking 44 three-pointers – hitting just 11 of those attempts. Basically, the Pacers dodged a bullet when a team that won only 38 regular season games shot terribly from the field over a two-game stretch.

So what did coach Frank Vogel have to say in the aftermath of this narrow series win? “It’s not easy,” he said, “guarding a team that takes 44 three’s, especially when 18 of those three’s came from their big guys.” Okay, fair enough, the Hawks did spread Indiana out and seek to minimize the Pacers’ inside defensive presence. But again, this was a team that finished six games under .500. So the question becomes, can we expect Indiana to get past the more talented and rising Washington Wizards in the conference semifinals?

The answer to this question will heavily depend on Roy Hibbert, who just hasn’t been himself over the past two months. He especially looked out of place against Atlanta’s jump-shooting barrage. However, he also earned some redemption in Game 7 by scoring 13 points, grabbing seven rebounds and blocking five shots.

indiana-roy-hibbertEverything points to Hibbert having a better overall series against Washington, which sports more traditional frontcourt size and offensive sets. We highly doubt that the Wizards will be attempting 40-plus three’s in the next round, so Hibbert should be a strong defensive presence. But then again, it’s been hard to predict when the 7’2″ big man will show up based on the latter half of the season. So we won’t truly know Hibbert’s impact until the Washington series is over with.

Team chemistry will be another issue. This is especially the case since Lance Stephenson and Evan Turner got into a fistfight before Game 1 of the Hawks series. Luckily, there was no word on any more incidents that were this dramatic. But it wasn’t long ago when Hibbert was publicly questioning the team’s offensive philosophy and complaining about not getting the ball enough. Championship teams don’t whine about who gets the ball, so this can’t resurface against the Wizards, and definitely not against Miami, should these two teams meet in the conference finals.

David West and Stephenson will also be question marks going into the Washington series. The latter is especially iffy from game to game and sometimes takes terrible shots. But the 6’5″ Stephenson did show up big on the glass in Game 7, grabbing 14 rebounds, including five on the offensive end. As for West, he brings a nice veteran presence to Indiana’s lineup, but he was off and on against Atlanta. Thankfully for the Pacers, he finished on a high note, scoring 13 points and blocking an incredible six shots.

About the lone guy that Indiana doesn’t need to worry about is Paul George. The star swingman put up 30 points and 11 rebounds in the winning Game 7 effort. “I got a chance to go to my mid-range,” George said after the victory. “It opened the game up. I felt confident coming off of screens and shooting the ball tonight.” For the entire series, he averaged 23.8 points and 10.7 rebounds, which are star numbers for sure.

This team boasts a championship-caliber roster. But they need to overcome inconsistent play and locker room problems if they are to reach their full potential.

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.