Indiana Pacers vs. Minnesota Timberwolves 12/21/14: Video Highlights and Recap

Two teams with just one win in their past nine games met on Sunday when the Indiana Pacers took on the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Both sides were in dire need of a victory, and the winner would get a small consolation in what looks to be a long season for both sides.

Watch the video for full highlights. 

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Indiana Pacers vs. Denver Nuggets 12/20/14: Video Highlights and Recap

The Denver Nuggets looked to build a bit of momentum on Saturday night when they took on the Indiana Pacers. The Nuggets snapped a three-game skid their last time out, but the Pacers posed a stern test, as they looked to bring an end to a run that had seen them drop nine of their last 10. 

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Indiana Basketball: Improving Frontcourt Key to Success Going Forward

Things aren’t as bleak as they once seemed for Indiana University basketball.

While the sky was falling a few weeks ago with a home loss to Eastern Washington and a blowout defeat at the hands of Louisville, the Hoosiers have bounced back and now have a quality win over in-state rival Butler.

All of a sudden, they look like a team that can compete in a Big Ten conference that is wide open behind Wisconsin.

The key to the win at the Crossroads Classic was the same as the key to success going forward: frontcourt play.

A lack of proven players in the frontcourt was a major problem to start the year and seemed like it was going to limit the squad throughout the season. Indiana allowed a combined 41 offensive rebounds in the two losses this year, as well as numerous easy baskets in the paint.

At the same time, it seemed like the only way the team was going to score points was from shots from beyond the arc.

However, the improved play of Troy Williams and Hanner Mosquera-Perea can end up being the difference for a team with a lot of talent.

While a great second half by Yogi Ferrell was necessary against Butler, the duo up front was truly the difference, as noted by Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports:

Williams was the one who turned heads offensively with 22 points, including a number of impressive finishes in the lane. Rob Dauster of NBC Sports believes the forward can help Indiana go far this year:

The sophomore always had the talent to be a star at this level with great athleticism and excellent body control, but he has been extremely inconsistent to start his career. The good news is this game can end up being a turning point for the young player.

He explained after the game that his mindset is different:

If he can continue to play anywhere near this level, it will give the Hoosiers some much-needed balance on the offensive end of the court. According to KenPom.com (subscription required), Indiana came into the game ranked 239th in the nation in percentage of points from two-point baskets and 226th in points from the free-throw line.

What this means is the team has been overly reliant on three-point shots from players like Ferrell and James Blackmon. This works sometimes, but it is also a great way to lose a big game when the shooting goes cold.

Adding this new dimension to the offense—with the ability to penetrate and score in the paint—can be a game-changer for this team.

Of course, the necessity of a quality frontcourt goes beyond just the offensive end. As you can see from the table, rebounding has been incredibly inconsistent all year long. The inability to stop opponents from scoring inside has also been a major problem.

Both of these issues were seemingly fixed against Butler. At 6’9″, Mosquera-Perea will never be a prototypical rim protector, but he showed his timing and athleticism with four blocks in the win. His nine rebounds were also his most since the first game of the year.

While the team doesn’t have a lot of size inside, Mosquera-Perea and Williams showed they can combine to become at least a formidable defensive duo. Adding in contributions from Emmitt Holt, Collin Hartman and Max Hoetzel and this unit should be able to hold its own in most games.

This is a necessity because if these players as a group cannot contain opponents or limit possessions to one shot, the team will lose regardless of how well the guards are playing.

The good news is the Hoosiers are in the perfect conference to succeed. The Big Ten has a lot of good teams. But aside from Wisconsin, there are few frontcourts that really scare you.

We have seen teams like Michigan and Michigan State lose games early this season to opponents with better frontcourts. Even Ohio State—considered by many to be the No. 2 team in the conference—received this reaction from Doug Gottlieb of CBS Sports during Saturday’s loss to North Carolina:

Despite being undersized, Indiana shockingly has a chance to be one of the better frontcourts in the conference if it can reach its potential. 

At the very least, the unit, as it played against Butler, will be far from a liability, which is what it seemed like earlier in the season. This alone could be the recipe for success for the remainder of the season and possibly the NCAA tournament. 

 

Got questions or just want to talk college basketball? Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter.

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Indiana Pacers Need To Avoid Lance Stephenson Trade At All Costs

The Indiana Pacers, Charlotte Hornets and Lance Stephenson are all much worse off than they were a year ago. Dec. 15 was the first day on which players who signed free-agent contracts over the summer could be traded. With that date in the rearview mirror, there is now the opportunity for all three parties to take a massive mulligan on their summers and arrange a deal that would send Stephenson back to Indiana.

It’s an enticing idea, but likely a terrible one from the Pacers’ perspective. 

The Pacers appear to be doing their due diligence and gathering information. Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Pacers are at least talking to the Hornets about the idea.

The case for pursuing Stephenson is fairly straightforward. The Pacers wanted to re-sign him this summer, offering Stephenson a five-year, $44 million deal. The three-year, $27 million deal he ultimately signed with the Hornets works out to roughly the same yearly salary. Essentially the Pacers could have him back, on a slightly shorter commitment, for the price they were willing to pay in the first place.

Stephenson hasn’t exactly been sparkling this year in Charlotte. Colin McGowan of Vice Sports visited the Hornets’ situation and Stephenson’s role in it:

The Hornets, in what was supposed to be a season of marked growth, are in the Eastern Conference’s basement. Outside of Al Jefferson‘s reliably efficient post-ups, they’re without ideas on offense, and their defense, which was quite good last year, leaks like a cardboard dam. Stephenson is and isn’t at the center of this. The entire squad is in a funk, but Stephenson is slumping as hard as anyone, and (shockingly) isn’t handling it well. His jumper has forsaken him, and his body language suggests he assumed he would have the ball in his hands more often—he sulks whenever Kemba Walker runs the show for a few minutes. 

You can see from his shot chart that he’s been barely average around the rim and horrible from everywhere else, except a pocket of pull-up jump shots from the right elbow:

Still, as bad as he’s been in Charlotte, Stephenson has all the same skills he used in a Pacers uniform the past few seasons. He has not regressed physically. His regression has been about the situation in Charlotte and Stephenson’s mental and emotional reactions. It seems reasonable that the Pacers could plug him back into the same framework in which he was previously successful and expect similar results.

To be clear, the Pacers seem like they could really, really use the old Lance Stephenson this year.

After he signed with Charlotte, they tried to replicate his contributions in piecemeal fashion—C.J. Miles as the shooter, Rodney Stuckey as the penetrator, Solomon Hill as the defender. Miles has been a disaster shooting the ball and, predictably, not having a single player who can do all three things consistently has short circuited the Pacers’ effectiveness at both ends of the floor.

Still, even with those clear needs and a clear opportunity to fill them with a known quantity (as much as Stephenson can be considered a known quantity at any one moment), reacquiring Stephenson seems like a losing proposition.

For all his physical talent and basketball skills, Stephenson was a problem for the Pacers’ chemistry. His teammates were visibly frustrated with his antagonism of the Miami Heat in last season’s playoffs. That wasn’t a one-time occurrence but a reflection on the tension that had been building around his offensive decision-making all season long.

When the Pacers were finally eliminated, Paul George was asked point blank if he wanted Stephenson back. He offered a less than ringing endorsement, per Pro Basketball Talk‘s Kurt Helin:

I mean, I don’t know. That’s for (Indiana president) Larry (Bird), (GM) Kevin (Pritchard) to decide. It would be great, we came into this league together. It would be great for us to continue our journey together. He’s played a huge year this whole season and in this postseason. He’s definitely put pressure on us to make decisions going forward with Lance.

That diplomatic non-commitment sounds remarkably similar to Frank Vogel’s comments on the trade talk after Tuesday’s practice, via Fox59.com‘s David Griffiths: “I have no comment on that or players on other teams. I really love the guys we have on our team. I love the togetherness we’re building. All my focus is on getting this group to succeed.”

George Hill offered a similar sentiment, saying, “I’m not saying I like it or dislike it, but right now we have a lot of great guys. I think it would be unfair to them.”

While Stephenson seems like a solution to so many of their current challenges, his potential teammates and coach don’t seem desperate for his return.

It’s possible that these quotes reflect caution or a desire to not make waves or put pressure on management and the organization. However, after watching the Pacers collapse in on themselves last spring, it was clear that the dysfunction the team was dealing with was more about personalities than talent. The joy seemed to go out of the team around the beginning of January and they never quite got it back. 

The Pacers systems—offensive and defensive—both rely on precise collaboration and communication. In that context, personality, attitude and effort are almost as important as skill.

While Stephenson might be able to help in terms of raw talent and basketball skill, it seems probable that his interpersonal contributions could completely undermine that.

Lance Stephenson was important to the rise of the Indiana Pacers organization. He was a key piece of their playoff push the past two seasons and helped bring them to the brink of the NBA Finals. 

That era is over.

Too much damage has been done, too many psychological bridges have been burnt.

The Pacers could use Lance Stephenson’s skills in a vacuum, but personal experience offers a reminder that skill in a vacuum is nothing more than a pipe dream.

The Hornets have learned the same lesson and won’t be looking for much in return for a chance to undo their mistake.

Just say no, Indiana.

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Indiana Pacers vs. Los Angeles Clippers 12/17/14: Video Highlights and Recap

The Los Angeles Clippers looked to build a bit of momentum back on Wednesday when they took on the Indiana Pacers. The Clippers snapped a two-game skid their last time out and faced a Pacers squad that snapped an eight-game skid in its last contest. 

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Indiana Pacers: Is Lance Stephenson coming home?

Well, that was quick.
Just months after the Charlotte Hornets snagged guard Lance Stephenson from the Indiana Pacers in free agency, it looks as though Lance’s return to Indianapolis is possible.
Stephenson, the controversial “triple-double machine” has played exceptionally poor since signing with Charlotte. His numbers have dropped across the board this year in an established system that features Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker. Simply put, Lance Stephenson is having a terrible season in basically every way.
With the Pacers in the midst of an 8-game losing streak, team President Larry Bird is certainly exploring all possible avenues to bring more talent to Indianapolis. Should Larry and the front office look into trading for Lance Stephenson? If the right deal is on the table, Larry Bird should take it.
But what exactly is the right deal?
Since his college days at Cincinnati, Larry Bird has kept a watchful eye on Stephenson. The two have maintained a firm bond over the course of Stephenson’s career. It

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Indiana Pacers vs. Toronto Raptors 12/12/14: Video Highlights and Recap

The Toronto Raptors entered Friday night’s game trying to maintain a half-game lead over the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference against an Indiana Pacers team searching for any sign of life.

Watch full highlights here.

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David West’s Return Not the Answer Indiana Pacers Have Been Looking for

Despite a slew of injuries, the Indiana Pacers came out of the gate with a surprisingly strong start.

While most of their projected starting lineup rehabbed and recovered, players like Chris Copeland, Donald Sloan and Solomon Hill carried the Pacers to several gutsy wins. 

That performance created plenty of optimism. If the end of the bench can hold down the fort until guys like David West return, the Pacers might keep themselves in playoff contention. 

West has been back for seven games now and the Pacers have won just one. In short, he has not been the answer they were looking for.

His return was supposed to be a real linchpin. He has been the Pacers’ rock for the past three seasons, reliably competing on defense and carrying the offense through dry stretches. 

West has not been playing horribly, his per-36 minute statistics from Basketball-Reference are fairly close to what he averaged last season:

  PTS REB AST STL BLK FG%
2014-2015 15.7 7.9 3.3 0.6 0.4 41.1%
2013-2014 16.3 7.9 3.2 0.9 1.1 48.8%

The biggest difference is the field-goal percentage. West’s outside shooting is a pressure release valve for the Pacers offense. It provides some measure of spacing for penetration and gives everyone a target to throw the ball to when the shot clock is winding down.

You can see from West’s shot chart that his jump shot has been fairly limited in effectiveness so far this season:

Obviously the shot volume is small everywhere because he hasn’t taken many shots yet. But you can see he’s been very inconsistent on his mid-range pick-and-pop attempts around the free throw line, and normally those shots are West’s bread and butter.

Even more concerning is the lack of activity around the basket. Compare his shot chart from this season to last season’s version: 

Again, overall shot volume is much higher everywhere because he’s had so few shot attempts this season. But you can see how much more active West usually is in and around the paint. In addition to this shot distribution pattern, he also isn’t getting to the line. Last season he averaged 5.3 free-throw attempts per 100 possessions, per Basketball-Reference. This season that number is down to 1.7.

Both of these pieces are impacting the Pacers offense. West’s game has been one-dimensional—on the perimeter—and he’s still hasn’t found his rhythm from the outside.

According to NBA.com, the Pacers offense has been 14.2 points worse per 100 possessions, with West on the floor. That’s a pretty remarkable drop for an offense that is already among the league’s worst. Altogether, they are scoring just 85.5 points per 100 possessions with West on the floor. 

The starting unit has been a big part of the problem, which West acknowledged to Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star after Wednesday night’s loss to the Los Angeles Clippers:

Our chemistry is not very good with that group. We’ve got to work on it. Thank God for those other guys, the second unit guys keeping some of these games close, because we just haven’t been able to start the games well. We get down and really put the team in a bad way.

It’s a small sample, but one of the players who appears to be suffering the most is Roy Hibbert. He was in the midst of a moderate offensive bounce-back from last season’s struggles. With West on the floor, his field-goal percentage has dropped from 46.5 percent to 42.1 percent. His free-throw attempts per 36 minutes also dropped from 5.3 to 1.7.

Those two numbers are really important. A big piece of Hibbert‘s resurgence was playing strong on the interior. For whatever reason, he hasn’t been able to do that as well with West back in the lineup. It’s even gotten to the point where changes to the front-line rotation, one of the most reliable in the league over the past few seasons, may be on the horizon. Here’s Mark Montieth from Pacers.com:

Vogel isn’t giving up on anyone. He believes West and Hibbert are lacking synergy rather than energy, the result of being surrounded by three different starters than the past two seasons, and that the talent is adequate to win games. Still, he’s not opposed to making changes. Yes, he’s stuck with players in the past, but not when the losses are piling up.

The Pacers need West on their front line, but only if he’s working well. At his current level of production, he isn’t punishing defenders for overreacting to ball-handlers on the screen-and-roll. He also isn’t providing an additional weapon by posting up smaller players and bullying his way into baskets around the rim. 

It certainly makes things difficult that most of the wings and backcourt players West and Hibbert are working with are largely new. Still, West’s skill set and steady strength have always had the effect of making things easier on his teammates.

Right now, it’s going the opposite direction.

West’s skill haven’t degraded that far, and a rhythm can be found.

The Pacers have to hope he finds it soon.

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Rozier leads No. 4 Louisville over Indiana 94-74 (Yahoo Sports)

NEW YORK (AP) — Terry Rozier scored a career-high 26 points and grabbed six rebounds as No. 4 Louisville beat Indiana 94-74 on Tuesday night in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden.

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Terry Rozier leads No. 4 Louisville over Indiana

Terry Rozier scored a career-high 26 points.

      
 

 

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