The Indiana Pacers grabbed a win Tuesday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves to kick off their preseason schedule. The preseason rolled on Friday night as they took on the Orlando Magic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, where they would unfortunately take their first loss.
In a game where Frank Vogel experimented with different lineups the Pacers would be without David West, C.J. Watson, and Shayne Whittington, but Chris Copeland and Ian Mahinmi returned for their first action of the preseason.
Both teams started slow, but the Pacers eventually pushed ahead thanks to Roy Hibbert's inside presence, C.J. Miles shooting, and sloppy play by Orlando. Miles started hot scoring all 11 of his points in the first, including two three pointers. Hibbert knocked down three jumpers in the quarter and would finish his night with 13 points, 3 boards, and 3 blocks. Even after some uneven offensive play by the rest of the team, the Pacers sported a 27-18 lead after the first quarter.
The second quarter got off to a rocky start, with Indiana opening 2 of 10 from the field as the Magic eliminated their lead, outscoring the Pacers 21 to 5 in the first six minutes of the quarter. The return of Roy Hibbert and George Hill to the floor got the team back on track, but the Magic still took a 47-46 into halftime.
The third quarter did not start much better as Orlando extended their lead to 11 halfway through the quarter. However, Indiana closed the quarter strong trimming their deficit to two heading into the fourth.
A closing lineup consisting of Donald Sloan, Solomon Hill, Damjan Rudez, Lavoy Allen, and Arinze Onuaku could not stop the Magic as they pulled away in the last few minutes for a 96-93 victory. Sloan tried to shoot the Pacers back into the game, but his team leading 16 points would not be enough to finish the comeback.
The primary concern heading into this season is regarding who is going to step up offensively to help compensate for the loss of Paul George and Lance Stephenson. Tonight Vogel got another look at some of the guys competing for minutes in the new wing rotation. There was not much to be impressed by.
Chris Copeland was noticeably rusty, and that's perhaps being too kind. He missed all six of his shots and did not appear to be any better defensively. It was his first game, so I'm willing to give him a pass for now. Damjan Rudez only played 15 minutes and was at least better than Copeland. He checked into the game for the first time late in the third quarter and made one of his two three point attempts, but he missed few midrange jumpers and shots in the lane. Rudez ended his day 2-6 from the field with 5 points. Solomon Hill's performance was also a mixed bag. Hill went 1 of 3 from the field, but got to the line three times finishing with 5 points and 3 rebounds.It is clear he is still struggling with his shot, but Hill can be effective when he attacks the basket.
Luis Scola had a rough night from the field again, missing all but one of his shots. Ian Mahinmi only played 14 minutes and had 2 points and 3 rebounds.
On a more positive note, all Pacers starters scored in double figures. Lavoy Allen got the start for David West and had another solid game. Allen finished with 10 points and 8 rebounds in 26 minutes. He has been impressive through the first two games as he fights for minutes down low. Rodney Stuckey was also very active, he was aggressive with the dribble and got 4 of his 10 points from the free throw line.
The buzz word surrounding George Hill this offseason has been "aggressive". Frank Vogel and Hill have promised that he would be a larger part of the offense this season and for the second straight game he came out firing. Hill had three triples in the second quarter and finished the night with 11 points and 4 assists in only 23 minutes. He looked very confident, which can only be a positive moving forward.
Tobias Harris led the way for Orlando scoring 16 points and grabbing 6 rebounds. Rookies Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton also had nice showings. Gordon went 3 of 4 from the field scoring 6 points and Payton made all four shots he took to score 8 points while dishing out 5 assists.
Overall it was a sloppy offensive game for Indiana, but that is obviously to be expected in the preseason. Shooting 38 percent from the field is never fun, but even with the loss there were positive individual performances that may be cause for some optimism, most notably from George Hill, C.J. Miles, Lavoy Allen, and Donald Sloan. However, there is clearly still much to improve upon and still spots in the rotation up for grabs. The Pacers will do some more exploring Sunday as they return to the floor on the road against the Dallas Mavericks.