Spurs @ Pacers Give-and-Go Preview
17 wins in a row and the San Antonio Spurs may face their stiffest test since beating the Miami Heat on March 6. Or maybe it was the Blazers on March 12. Either way, it’s been a while. Then again, the Pacers are struggling right now. To try and figure out what the heck will happen tonight, friend of 48MoH Jared Wade—proprietor of former TrueHoop Network member 8 Points, 9 Seconds—joined me to chat about the matchup.
Andrew McNeill, 48 Minutes of Hell: Where I want to start is with the current form of the Pacers. They’ve struggled recently, what’s going on?
Jared Wade, 8 Points, 9 Seconds: Honestly, I have no idea. There are some definite tactical problems going on with the offense. The ball movement has been stagnant at times, guys are settling for too many jump shots, and fundamentals like good screen setting and spacing have become sloppy. All that said, I’m not sure how you go from arguably the best team in the NBA to legitimately just bad on that alone. No, it seems there is more going on, and that the players’ have simply forgotten how to play basketball.
AM: That is… disconcerting. Especially this close to the playoffs.
JW: It is. There was some hope that the battle they had last week against the Heat would awaken them from the Hawkeye-in-Avengers-like trance they’ve been in since the All-Star break. In beating Miami, some of the ugly offense aspects that I mentioned were still on display, but they were able to rise to the occasion, crank up the defense late and gut out a win. That was very encouraging and emblematic of how they’re built to win games. But then the go out and get smoked by the Wizards and the Cavs in their next two games, showing no signs of life in either.
AM: Solid DC Comics reference there.
JW: On a back-to-back, they must look like a wounded antelope to a lion to the Spurs.
AM: Ah, didn’t factor in the back-to-back. It’s so hard to call these types of games. Because, yes, on the one hand the Pacers are struggling and the Spurs are rolling. But on the other, these winning streaks are so fragile and San Antonio is due for a dud of a performance.
JW: Are the Spurs worried enough about the 1-seed to really slug it out with the Pacers if it comes to that, or is Pop already more in rest-the-stars mode?
AM: REST THE STARS. Pop would give me the night off if he thought it would help the team. I think they want the #1 seed, but they’re not willing to sacrifice anything to get it. Pop’s deal has always been that you have to win on the road anyway, but I think they’d like to have any and all Game 7s at home after last year.
JW: Playing in the West is crazy. A three-game lead with nine to play doesn’t feel remotely secure. Meanwhile, Indiana could drop its final eight games and still finish in second.
AM: I think we probably haven’t given the Spurs enough credit for what they’ve done this season, myself included. The West is as tough as it’s ever been and the Spurs have battled through so many injuries. The fact that they’ve got this good of a record is amazing. If they don’t win a title this season or next, I want this group to get some sort of lifetime achievement award.
So what’s up with Paul George? Where is he at compared to where he was early in the season, when some were touting him for a darkhorse MVP candidate?
JW: He’s a shell of that guy. We saw against the Heat that his defense is still arguably tops in the league for wings. But the consistency isn’t there even on that end from a night-to-night basis. Still, defense doesn’t slump, as they say, so when he really gets those competitive juices going, he will bring so much as a perimeter defender that his value on the court is huge.
Scoring wise, though, he seems stuck in purgatory. It’s like everything was so easy at the beginning of the year: He would just catch on the wing, make a silky dribble move into the midrange and use velvety touch to knock down a 14-footer in space. It seemed so instinctive and fluid. Now, that has all disappeared and everything is forced. He’s trying so, so hard to recreate that magic, but it’s rarely there and he ends up just looking out of sorts.
AM: You think George is the best perimeter defender? How do you think he compares to Kawhi Leonard?
JW: I don’t know that George is the best. LeBron James, Andre Iguodala and a few others can make the same claim. But he’s right there in the conversation and he has such a great mind and discipline for defensive craft—which is astounding at 23 years old. I think you can say most of the same things about Kawhi. It’s crazy to think that they could be playing together right now. But, ya know, the Pacers opted for George Hill instead.
AM: There are a lot of weird theoretical relationships between the Spurs and Pacers. I remember San Antonio being really high on Paul George before the draft and hoping he would fall to them. It didn’t happen and the rest is history. Roy Hibbert works out with Tim Duncan in the offseason, which has pretty random origins. Indiana has Ian Mahinmi.
JW: Indeed. There was also somewhat of a parallel in the ’90s where both teams were excellent and always contending but never able to get over the hump.
JW: The Pacers were also an early Euro-friendly team, employing the likes of Detlef Schrempf and Rik Smits. The Spurs have taken that mantle completely in the 2000s. Plus, obviously, ABA roots
AM: Miss you, Detlef.
JW: Same. Check the Parks & Rec reruns to see what he’s up to now.
AM: Okay, so what happens tonight?
JW: Based on recent play, the Pacers score in the mid-70s and lose by 15.
AM: Last thing before I let you go. I need one random prediction for the game, something that has nothing to do with the final score.
JW: The Spurs will go on a run of at least 12-0 while Roy Hibbert will take less than 10 shots, making four or fewer.
The Spurs face the Pacers tonight at 6 pm central time on Fox Sports Southwest. For Spurs fans in the Indianapolis area looking for tickets to tonight’s game, visit our friends at TiqIQ.