You'd have to go back to 2007-2008 to find the last Pacers' team that started the season 3-0. Back in those days, the hampered pair of Jermaine O'Neal and Jamaal Tinsley was still plaguing the roster, Jeff Foster was a starter, David Harrison was a young, intriguing C prospect playing eight minutes a night, and Pacer fans everywhere were raving about a former top-10 pick named Ike Diogu who was playing some productive minutes off of the bench. Well, you can probably guess what happened next. Three-straight wins were followed by six-straight losses, and the Pacers were well on their way to an all-too-familiar sub .500 season.
With the Cleveland Cavaliers coming to town, the prospects of the Pacers' first 3-0 start in four years look as promising as ever. And, unlike its 07-08 predecessors, Indy may just have the staying power to spur the winning momentum onward. The Cavaliers--still recovering from the Summer of LeBron--present a roster thick on youth, inexperience, and hope for the future, but thin on developed and worthwhile talent to initiate a winning formula.
There are some intriguing names to be sure: Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson are top-five-draft prizes with immense talent just waiting to be honed. Anderson Varejao, Antawn Jamison, and Anthony Parker pose as wily veterans who are sure to be in trade-deadline talks come March. Ramon Sessions and Omri Casspi complete the ensemble as young players who have shown promise, but who are nowhere near build-around-him superstars.
No matter how you slice it, these Cavs are in a state of rebuilding, and, with the support of a day's rest and the home crowd, this is exactly the kind of game an improved-Pacer squad should...no must win to further prove its gaining traction as a viable league threat.
Some additional matchup morsels and questions after the jump.
Where do teams find these guys? And why does it seem the Pacers never do? Samardo Samuels, an undrafted FA out of the University of Louisville, offers a cheap financial investment, and a little game to go with it. He racked up 17 points and four rebounds against the Pistons on Wednesday night. This comes on the heels of a promising rookie season, which saw Samuels produce decently during an injury-ravaged Cavaliers' campaign in 2010-2011...How else do you describe Kyrie Irving's rookie season so far other than so-so? 10 PPG on 33% shooting from the field doesn't exactly scream No. 1 pick. It's only been two games, however, so time is obviously on his side. Just think, Irving's two NBA games played already makes up nearly a fourth of the total amount of games he played in college.
Speaking of three-game streaks, do you know how many times Roy Hibbert has produced three-straight games of double-digit rebounds? Just once, during his second season. With a recovering Varejao and Jamison as his most likely frontcourt foes, he's in a good spot to hit the mark again...Bad offense plaguing Indy? Don't blame Paul George who's shooting 60% from three on five attempts a game. We shouldn't expect those numbers to stay so high, but it's obvious PG put in the work to get stronger for the long-distance shot...George Hill was a combined 14-37 (38%) from the field in his first two games of the season as a Spur. In other words, it's quite likely he's simply a slow starter--as many have suspected.
PG: Darren Collison vs. Kyrie Irving
Question: Is Collison's new-and-improved play on defense ready to thwart not one, but two capable point guards in Irving and Sessions?
SG: Paul George vs. Anthony Parker
Question: Will a night off defensively (just watch that corner three from Parker, PG) mean even more offensive involvement from Indy's most improved offensive player?
SF: Danny Granger vs. Omri Casspi
Question: Can Granger please distribute some of that fourth-quarter magic across the first three quarters of the game? Similar to the Raptors, Granger should have no problem playing efficient offensive ball against this bunch.
PF: David West vs. Antawn Jamison
Question: One face-up PF looks re-invigorated on a young, playoff-hungry team. The other looks emotionless and may have a case of "talent erosion" that goes along with being 35 and a professional athlete. Can West's newfound passion continue to overcome chronic injury rustiness?
C: Roy Hibbert vs. Anderson Varejao
Question: There was a time when this type of matchup used to scare the Blue and Gold right out of Pacer fans. Not so much anymore. Will Roy continue to keep it close to the basket and keep the 50%+ shooting nights coming? Varejao's a good test.
With all the preseason hype, I can't believe I'm asking this: Are Tyler Hansbrough and Geroge Hill enough to match the Cavaliers' productive bench trio of Sessions, Thompson, and Samuels?