Stop me if you’ve heard this story before…
A combination of poor offense, even worse defense, and inconsistent play have resulted in another loss for the Pacers. The first two preseason games were fairly close, but this one…not so much.
The Pacers were whipped in Houston on Saturday night, by a score of 126-92.
Head coach Jim O’Brien had a different starting lineup on Saturday night from the previous two games. Collison, Granger, and Hibbert remained starters, but Dunleavy and McRoberts were replaced by Brandon Rush and Tyler Hansbrough. Don’t read too much into that, as Rush won’t be available for the first five games of the regular season and McRoberts has an injury that prevented him from traveling with the team to Houston.
The Pacers played a relatively good first half, as they only trailed by three points at halftime. The second half looked like a completely different team. There were more turnovers, bad decisions, and missed defensive assignments than there were baskets made. Coach O’Brien played more guys in the second half than he probably would during the regular season, but that shouldn’t have contributed to the poor execution of the team.
Darren Collison and Danny Granger were limited in their minutes yet were still effective early. The Pacers clearly had problems defending in the paint. Yao Ming didn’t necessarily eat them up, but they never did stop him. Luis Scola absolutely toyed with the Pacers down low, on the wing, at the top of the key, and pretty much everywhere. All of the Rockets players had their way with the Pacers on Saturday night.
Scola led the way for the Rockets with 23 points and 11 rebounds. Aaron Brooks finished with 17 points and seven assists. In all, six Rockets players scored in double figures. I lost count in the third quarter of how many high-flying alley-oop dunks and one-handed jams the Rockets had.
While the Pacers shot 42 percent from the floor, the Rockets were that much better, as they shot 57 percent on Saturday night. While the rebounding edge was close, the Rockets finished the game with 11 more assists and 11 more steals. As if that weren’t enough, the Rockets only had six turnovers for the game, while the Pacers coughed it up 20 times. It’s really hard to find that many positives for a team after losing by 34 points.
Besides the play of Mike Dunleavy (10 points) and A.J. Price (14 points), the Pacers bench was really useless. Roy Hibbert once again led the way for the Pacers, posting 17 points, nine rebounds, and three assists. He did miss some easy buckets in the paint but showed good versatility and finally stayed out of foul trouble.
Danny Granger was able to get out of his shooting slump, as he finished with 16 points, four rebounds, and two assists. Tyler Hansbrough continued to look decent, finishing with 11 points and four rebounds. He was a perfect 5-for-5 from the free throw line.
Darren Collison had a luke-warm night, as he posted six points, four rebounds, and four assists.
The Pacers have some young talent, and of course it is going to take time for these guys to mesh together and get a good feel for one another. With the second half that the Pacers had, I would have to think Coach O’Brien just wanted to see how some of these guys would play together.
When the regular season starts on October 26th, the Pacers will have to find a way to get their roster down to 15 from the 17 that they have now. This can be done by getting a trade done, or (the more likely scenario) by simply cutting players. This could explain why some of the bench guys were getting a lot of minutes tonight.
When A.J. Price went down with his knee injury this summer, he was expected to miss about six months. To the surprise of every one, he was able to come back in just four. He knows the team has their starting PG in Collison, backup T.J. Ford, and second-round draft pick Lance Stephenson. He also has a non-guaranteed contract. Things would look bad for him if he were unable to perform up to a high level. This is not the case, however.
Price has been playing exceptionally well for the Pacers in their first three preseason games. He posted 12 points against the Grizzlies, 15 points last night against the Magic, and had 14 more points tonight in Houston. I would venture to say he probably won’t be one of the two players that will likely be cut.
Two guys on the bubble right now though will need to show something soon. They have more in common than just their current position on the roster: Their last names are the same. Dahntay Jones and Solomon Jones had two of the worst performances in Houston on Saturday night, which is really saying a lot. If I had to pick the two guys that would get cut right now, these guys would probably be the ones.
While it is still preseason basketball, the Pacers still have plenty of work to do before they can even say the “P-word” (playoffs). The potential is there, but the real task will be trying to put it all together and figure out who is going to show up night-in and night-out, especially on the defensive side of things.
The Pacers will have the next few days off, as their next preseason contest will be Wednesday, October 13th, as they take on the Minnesota Timberwolves at Conseco Fieldhouse at 7 pm.