The Pacers treated their most recent exhibition against Atlanta as a dress rehearsal, and played the best game of the preseason. Is that enough to calm fans' preseason worries?
Tom: The Atlanta effort should certainly allay any concerns, especially coming off a few additional positives found in the Cleveland win. The hopes for an improved bench were certainly bolstered with Luis Scola and C.J. Watson showing up big. Plus, Lance. Whoa, if he can continue to his rate of positive-to-negative plays, Stephenson could be a Swiss army knife, x-factor to fill. The game made me anxious for opening night. They are ready. Let's go! One thing I take from the preseason struggles, though is that this team still has to show up ready to play and execute their game plan every night. They can't just show up and expect to be good enough to win.
Pierce: I'd say so. This has been a fairly weird preseason, with a ton more travel even than usual - including a pair of overseas games for crying out loud - so I'm not inclined to take much at all out of the Pacers' 0-5 start to the slate. That said, I've been glad to see them pick up the last couple wins. I've always got love for Born Ready (who I hope never to refer to by his given name) and I like what he's shown early, and the bench guys have been decent, especially last time out. I'm curious how the rotation is going to shake out. My only real concern is Danny Granger, but I guess we're getting to that.
Ian: Overreactions all around. I think the preseason problems have been overblown and I think this victory is not as meaningful as it seem. As much as the preseason seems like a dress rehearsal, an opportunity to work out the kinks and prepare for the regular season, those preparations haven't all been made by Opening Night, for anyone. I would expect plenty of things to show up early in the season, plenty of opportunities for growth and fine tuning. They probably won't be as synchronized or as organized as they looked against Atlanta, but they also won't be as bad as they looked leading up to that game.
Danny Granger has already been shut down until the regular season. Is this going to end poorly?
Tom: Well, yes it will end poorly, but when? This is Granger's last year with the Pacers so we have one end of the timeline locked in. I still think he will be a factor after seeing him in his last two appearances before the calf strain shut him down. In a starting role, Granger can be an off-ball scoring threat who can make defenses pay by knocking down open shots. With the quality passers throughout the starting unit, that role should suit Granger well and help manage his workload play in a supporting role.
Pierce: Like I said up top, Danny's got me a little worried. I know he's said the knee injury isn't a concern anymore and I believe him; I worry about his lower body conditioning being behind where it should be thanks to that knee injury. He's tweaked his calf a couple times and couldn't even make it through the preseason before going into Operation (Temporary) Shutdown. The Pacers had to go without him on last year's playoff run and based on the fact that he hasn't had a meaningful basketball moment since the Eastern Semis against the Heat two years ago, I wouldn't be surprised if circumstances force them to try and do something similar this year. Ideally, Granger plays 20-25 minutes per night in 2013-14 and gets himself ramped up going into the playoffs. Realistically, I'm glad the Pacers seem more prepared to play without him.
Ian: It feels really troubling, especially given that this is now a recurring injury. The body is a complex system and I wonder if Granger's previous injuries or overexertion with particular parts of that system in the name of rehab and recovery have thrown the whole thing out of whack. It could be nothing but an abundance of caution, but recent history makes this seem like a very big deal.
Does this Derrick Rose/rivalry stuff matter? No? Ok, new question: how much fun are these Pacers/Bulls games gonna be?
Tom: The Pacers/Bulls games will always be a blast. It is easy to argue that either team will win the Central and for that matter, the East. Health will likely be the deciding factor, although it seems like when the two teams play one another, the game is a bar brawl that is decided late, regardless of which players are in or out of the lineup. Honestly, I'm getting tired of being disappointed when Nazr Mohammed starting for Joakim Noah doesn't give the Pacers an edge.
Pierce: They might be more fun than the Pacers/Heat games; they'll certainly be a different feel. Pacers/Heat was such tremendous fun because of the stylistic clash. The Heat's speed and skill versus the Pacer size and strength was such a stark contrast - Roy Hibbert averaged better than 20 points per game that series, for crying out loud - and both sides had trouble handling what the other did well. Pacers/Bulls is different because the strengths are more similar. Both teams like to turn the game into a defensive bloodbath and try to win ugly, and both sides do that very well. I actually think we're looking at the two most dangerous teams in the East once the playoffs roll around if Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh is banged up at the end of the year, which isn't a bad bet based on the last couple of years.Plus these teams didn't much care for each other before Derrick Rose minimized the Pacers-Bulls rivalry. Their most recent preseason game was must-see TV, can't wait to see how hard they play one that actually counts.
Ian: No, it doesn't matter and the games are going to be fantastic. No one's going to give an inch and everyone should leave with a healthy smattering of purplish bruises. I can't wait.