It was not that long ago that a Western swing for the Indiana Pacers meant gloom and despair. It looks as if there may be reason for hope now as Indiana has won two out of three on their first trek out west, and has done it in rather convincing fashion on both ends of the floor.
The Pacers showed no signs of fear when the rolled in to the Staples Center to meet the defending World Champion Lakers and when it was all said and done, they exorcised the demons that had plagued them in L.A. for years by defeating the Lakers 95-92. While Kobe Bryant had 41 points, the Pacers did an excellent job in containing both Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol while leading most of the game. Pacers improved center Roy Hibbert continued his spirited play with 24 points and 12 rebounds on a night when the Pacers out rebounded the champs, shot a high percentage from the foul line, and kept their turnover numbers in check as well. The defensive pressure applied all evening long was crucial, holding the Lakers to just 39 percent from the field and forcing 14 turnovers in the process.
While generally you can figure on a let down after a big road victory, such is not the case here, as Indiana proceeded up the coast to Sacramento and handed the Kings a 107-98 defeat. The Pacers, led by Danny Granger’s 37 points, again used the same formula as they had against L.A., in which they would hold their own on the boards, apply defensive pressure on the basketball, shoot a high percentage from the foul line, and keep their turnovers to a minimum. The trip would continue on to Utah to face the Jazz and suddenly things looked like the old days as the Pacers fell behind early and could never recover in losing to the Jazz 110-98.
The formula that had served Indiana so well in the first two games of the trip fell by the wayside as the Pacers were out rebounded 46-32 and committed 18 turnovers, which led to 26 Utah points. Derron Williams had a field day against the blue and gold as he scored 24 points and dished out 16 assists. The Jazz placed six players in double figures while Darren Collison led Indiana with 16 points.
Notes: Both Pacers young forwards Josh McRoberts and Tyler Hansbrough have brought great energy to the floor this season. Pacers head coach Jim O’Brien has played them at the same time on more than one occasion, and may look to do it even more as the season progresses. Both these players bring it all every time they step on the floor and they crash the boards with a relentless style.
Jeff Foster continues to sit out of games with a bad back. The Pacers could certainly use his veteran presence in the pivot, not to mention his ability to pass the basketball as well. Foster is in the final year of his deal and his expiring contract may be attractive to other teams at the trade deadline.
While he has been an absolute solid citizen off the court, it appears his days of being able to help the Pacers on the court are sadly over.
While he has been maligned by various members of the media in the past, T.J, Ford has played some rather fine basketball at times this year for Indiana. Supplanted by Darren Collison as the starting point guard, Ford has kept his head up and played hard when called upon. Like Foster, he is in the final year of his deal and while his cap number is a large one, he too may draw some interest. It might be a good idea to hang on to the veteran, as his experience could prove most valuable in the event of an injury or suspension. Look for the Pacers to attempt to move him if the bottom falls out of this season and they are not in contention at the trade deadline.
The Pacers roll in to Phoenix on Dec. 3 to play the Suns and wrap up this Western road trip. Tip off is scheduled for 9 p.m. EST and the game can be seen on Fox Sports Indiana. Indiana returns to the friendly confines of Conseco Fieldhouse on Dec. 6 to face Toronto. The game tips at 7 p.m. and tickets are still available at the fieldhouse box office or at Ticketmaster.com.
Danny Bridges, who is optimistic that the Pacers will continue to play with spirit on the defensive end of the floor, regardless whether or not their shots are dropping, can be reached at (317) 578-1780 or at Bridgeshd@aol.com