[Thanks to AbhiD for today's game preview -yfbb]
Don't look now, but the small-ball revolution has found its ways into our black-and-blue central division. Specifically, tonight's match-up: the Indiana Pacers. Long gone are the days of Roy Hibbert clogging the paint and David West hoisting mid-range jumpers. Larry Bird has fully embraced the style Golden State has popularized in his management of the roster. Since last Monday's loss to our Chicago Bulls, where Derrick Rose injured his ankle, the Pacers have averaged 119 points while yielding 92 points, in wins against the lowly Philadelphia 76ers, "under-achieving" Milwaukee Bucks, and a Washington Wizards team that has somehow only played 12 games this season (the lowest mark in the league). In fact, since beginning the season 0-3, the Pacers have gone 9-2, with evenly spaced losses to the Cavaliers and Bulls. Furthermore, based on the current cadence, the Pacers are due for another loss tonight.
The focal point of this Pacers team has been none other than Paul George, who has looked phenomenal thus far following a so-so return from injury towards the end of the prior season. Based on stats I grabbed from an ESPN graphic, the all-star has averaged 29.2 PPG, 49% FG%, 9.8 RPG, and a +/- of +10.7 per 48 and 24.1 PPG, 44% FG%, 7.7 RPG, and a +/- of +9.0 per 48 when playing the small- and power-forward positions, respectively. Although I feel they may have issues when matching up against teams that employ traditional bigs, there are so few post-up brutes left in the league that Indiana has been able to get away with Paul George at the four-spot. Head coach Frank Vogel seems to have adapted a strategy of match-up-based lineups (how novel!), starting Jordan Hill and Ian Mahinmi versus the Cavaliers a few weeks ago while removing the former in lieu of Chase Budinger versus the Bulls last week. I'm fairly curious to see how the Pacers fare against two-big teams (San Antonio, for example) going forward.
Since the teams last met, the Pacers have shot a blistering 55% from deep, culminating in an otherworldly 19-26 performance Tuesday against the Wizards. While that pace likely won't persist, with the Bulls allowing opponents to shoot roughly 34% from long-range, there are particular match-ups (read: Nikola Mirotic versus anyone) where the Pacers could get some great looks. Furthermore, forward CJ Miles has recently risen in lieu of Monta Ellis as second fiddle to PG13, with the latter still searching for his role on the Pacers. George Hill was absent during last week's game versus the Bulls, but with him back in the line-up, it will be interesting to see how Fred Hoiberg approaches Friday's game.
Apart from the normal hot topics of Derrick Rose staying healthy, Pau Gasol not being a complete sieve on defense, Nikola Mirotic pump-faking at ghosts and taking 3's from South Bend, Joakim Noah's lay-ups caroming of the backboard, and Kirk Hinrich doing Kirk Hinrich-things, I'd say the Jimmy Butler - Paul George duel part deux will be the feature attraction. Also, it will be interesting to see if Rose checks George Hill or Monta Ellis, as I see whoever he isn't guarding lighting up Tony Snell. Ultimately, I'd like to see the Bulls contest the Pacers' hot shooters and make them put the ball on the floor. However, at times that's been too much to ask of this iteration of our beloved Chicago Bulls. Simply put, I would be happy with a showing sans a Thanksgiving-hangover.