After Saturday night's 110-104 loss to the Sacramento Kings, the Pacers are poised to slide deeper into lottery land. This may sound strange, but this one game could prove pivital. Instead of being three games under .500 with four winnable road games on the horizon, the Pacers are now 18-23, and splitting those four on the road seems more probable. Let's give them three wins, that puts the Pacers at 21-24. The next eight games after the roadie that lead up to the All-Star break are against -- Detroit, Houston, Orlando, San Antonio, at NYK, Portland, Boston, at Detroit. Yikes!
Jermaine O'Neal had an MRI that revealed a bone bruise on his knee, so he will not play for two weeks. Marquis Daniels didn't play tonight. Jamaal Tinsley was back from, ahem, deactivation. The day-to-day fluctuations on the roster are killing the Pacers. The lack of continuity makes it hard to practice and set a game plan in place before the game.
The game tonight was a perfect example, as Stephen Graham was pressed into action with Daniels out. Graham played HUGE! Did he earn a few more opportunities to show what he can do? I would think so, finishing with 15 points, running the floor like no one else on the roster, and making several hustle plays. But what effect does a possible Graham emergence have. At this point in the season, working new faces in isn't easy. As with Diener and Rush, there's a ripple effect impacting the role of other players. Plus, the you have to expect a level of inconsistency from a guy who is not used to playing every night.
Sorry for the detour through the unpleasant, but watching the game tonight with all these factors in place didn't leave me too inspired. The Pacers were down 12-2 early, but unlike the last Golden State game when the Pacers were coughing up sophomoric turnovers, the early problems were just due to missed shots. They were good shots, though, so I figured once the ball started falling everything would be fine. Well, the Pacers were unable to warm up much, in fact they missed 20 3-balls. This was one of those games where Dunleavy and Foster get to the hoop but can't finish. I felt like Dun probably struggled to fire up for this game after the emotional back-to-back games against the Warriors. I had the same problem.
The Kings led throughout the second half and looked to be cruising until the Pacers mounted a late rally to close within two points with 1:52 left in the game. But the Kings closed it out by making 11 of 12 free throws. Honestly, I appreciate the fight the Pacers showed at the end of the game, but the Kings earned the win from the get go.
Couple other points:
- Ronnie Artest came off the bench along with Mike Bibby for the Kings tonight. Artest had some good moments, but when he dominates the ball the Kings are in trouble. When the Pacers were able to keep Udrih or Bibby from bringing the ball up, leaving it in Artest's hands, good things happened for the Pacers. Ronnie hit some key shots, but the Kings have to have him get those shots in the flow of their offense. When he's holding the ball and "creating" it usually creates problems.
- Now I know why the Kings are shopping Mike Bibby. Beno Udrih is quite nice. He can shoot it and create in the lane. I'm glad I was able to see him play a good game. Not so glad that game was against the Pacers.
- Mikki Moore was ready for the small ball lineup from the Pacers. He was suddenly a monster inside with Dunleavy and Granger on him.
- Jamaal Tinsley seemed a bit reserved in his return. I really thought he'd take Udrih down in the post for some abuse. He did post up a few times but never went at it. In fact, Tins didn't look for his shot much all night. I have a feeling shot selection has been a heated topic of conversation in the locker room. All or nothing isn't an improvement, though.
- As I mentioned above, Stephen Graham saw his first significant minutes of the season leaving everyone wondering what took so long. He scrapped, played solid defense, ran the floor hard, shot well from outside, finished strong around the bucket. Yep, that's it. Oh, and when I say finish strong I mean finishing with dunks that force fans to jump out of their seats.