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Allowing the Bottom Line to Explain the Improvement

Even though the Pacers sit at 7-6 for the first time 2006, it was just a year ago they had just beaten the Clippers to improve to 6-7. From a standings standpoint, well, there’s not a lot of difference. But unlike last year’s game 13 win, which snapped a four game losing streak before kicking off a six game skid that sure helped sink the season quickly, albeit not that painlessly, things feel different this year.

One of the biggest reasons is that Troy Murphy is no longer on the team. It’s not that Murphy is a bad guy, or a bad player, but it was never a coincidence that when he went down with his injury against Denver, the team ran off five straight wins and Roy Hibbert began to emerge. After all, when the Pacers snapped out of their 10 of 11 losing stretch against the eventual 70-game losing Nets, the Pacers were 6-13, and the team was 1-12 with Murph in the lineup.

Perhaps there’s an extension there in the team’s improved defense credited to a lack of Murphy. Josh McRoberts isn’t close to Murphy’s offensive game, but he’s also working down low and helping the team defensively in ways Murphy never could. Ultimately, that’s one factor, but the team is simply better defensively so far, but how does everything look on the bottom line: points?

So I’m hoping to give a quick look here at points. Just points, comparing this year’s team with last year’s through 13 games, to see just how much better off they’ve been, and possibly are this year, and whether we can come to any kind of conclusion on points alone.

To start it off, the Pacers have won all seven games this year by a total of 115 points. That’s 16.4 PPG. So when the Pacers win, they’ve won big. Take away their largest margin of victory against Denver, the average gets pulled down to 14.0, which is still a lot of points to be winning by, even though it’s skewed a little further by Indiana shutting down in the fourth quarter against Cleveland last night.

In losses, the tales are about the same. Indiana has lost by a total of 60 points, or 10.0 per game. Take away the beatdown in Philly, and the average drops to just 6.8, which means they’re in most games, which the eye test can confirm. All in all, these positives mean the Pacers are outscoring their opponents by an average of 4.3 a night, which if it managed to hold, would likely mean a 50-win season, as no team over 4.0 in margin of victory won less than 50 in the last two seasons.

But that’s a long way off. This time last year, the Pacers were winning large (12.0 PPG), but losing even larger (14.3), giving the team a one point loss on the average nightly. All told, the Pacers have thrown up nearly a five and a half point turnaround this season, which is nothing to scoff at. A look at other losing to winning teams in the past couple of years: Atlanta improved from 37-45 to 47-35 on a 3.4 PPG turnaround, Portland saw a 6.2 turnaround as they went from 41-41 to 54-28, and Oklahoma City’s turnaround saw a 9.6 PPG difference.

We’re 13 games in, but if the Pacers can keep playing at the level they are, the record will certainly take care of itself. But how do the Pacers continue to play at that level and take care of what they need to? The biggest advantage for Indiana has been their ability to take a lead into halftime. Even though the Pacers have struggled in the first quarter; they’ve come up trailing after nine games. The script gets flipped in the second quarter, as Indiana has won 10 of the 13. In fact, their three biggest second quarters have come in their last four games, all of which were wins. The team is really benefiting from big second quarters to erase first quarter deficits and put themselves in great position at halftime. In fact, when tied or leading, the Pacers are 6-3 in games.

Of course, that’s nothing special. Teams typically manage to win games when winning at halftime. Interestingly, the third quarter is the make or break quarter for the Pacers. Indiana is 1-5 when they lose the third quarter alone. This shouldn’t be a big surprise, as Indiana has only trailed by more than ten points at half time once. The blue and gold haven’t been terribly effective if they lose the third quarter in bouncing back in the fourth. Really, they’ve ended up trailing in four of those games heading into the fourth quarter, but again, teams typically lose when they trail into the fourth quarter. Indiana is 1-5 when they aren’t leading.

So this sets up the Pacers in the fourth quarter to simply ride the momentum they’ve set in the first three quarters, either good or bad. But the positives as of late is that the Pacers have given up 16 points in the fourth quarter, not incidentally, Cleveland outscored Indiana by 16 in the fourth last night, and had won their last five fourth quarters until that game.

All in all, the Indiana is averaging just shy of 100 points a night, as their opponents can barely muster up 95. That’s a big deal when it’s all said and done. One hundred points is typically the make or break line between a win and a loss in the NBA. The Pacers stay true to the trend, and are 5-2 when they allow fewer than 100 and 4-1 when they score 100.

What you can get from points is simply that: the bottom line. But looking at the bottom line, there are a lot of pretty good things to be had so far in the season. I can’t guarantee it results in a 50-win season, but through 13 games at least, the Pacers are certainly a better team than last year.