While the preseason can be taken with a grain of salt in regards to wins and losses, there was enough in the Indiana Pacers play tonight to start forming ideas on how the blue and gold will look when the regular season opens in two weeks. The Pacers fought tough with the Cavs starting unit in the first quarter, a heavy dose of David West keeping the Pacers afloat and appeasing the Xavier home crowd.
Indiana moved the ball well on the night, assisting on 24 of 35 baskets, and limiting (and winning) the turnover battle, with just 13 (though it did turn into 17 Cleveland points). Indiana also worked their way back into the game from double digit deficits twice, responding to a pair of long droughts, putting them in position to win the game late, though a horrible shot by C.J. Watson on Indiana's final possession (mercifully) kept the Pacers out of an overtime opportunity.
But despite some positives, Indiana had no short of shortcomings. Not necessarily negatives, but what kind of feels like what could be season long issues without improvement from the personnel. The Pacers shot 50% inside the paint, 4-5 fourth quarter. Missed bunnies were an issue for the Pacers, who did manage to bring in 12 offensive rebounds, a huge advantage from their loss in Dallas, and especially against a lineup with Kevin Love, who was made a non-factor with five points and four boards in 17 minutes.
What could really prove to be a problem for the Pacers was the play of LeBron James. Of course, the play of LeBron James is going to prove to be a problem for most teams in the NBA, but the issues Indiana had with James doesn't appear to be something that will pertain to only James. James was a wildly effective 9-12 for 26 points in 24 minutes. It was an easy night for him, in part because the Pacers appear to have no one on the roster capable of guarding him.
Again, guarding James is a problem for most teams, but this was too easy. Maybe Pacers fans are spoiled with the play of Paul George and the devil may care attitude of Lance Stephenson, but the early task given to Solomon Hill in hopes of containing him turned into a how-to on how-to-not guard LeBron James, with James skyhooking, fading away, squaring up, laying up, and getting to the line in what amounted to the very definition of the league's best player being "in a zone," getting very little resistance along the way.
Things clearly didn't get any better when defensive switch and lineup rotations put the task of defense on anyone else's shoulders. At this point, it doesn't appear the Pacers have a single player on the roster capable of making things difficult for James, which has a real possibility of bleeding over into other elite scoring wings around the league. On the bright side for Solomon Hill, did come up with three steals (a pair on James) and showed sharp movement away from the ball, especially on two of his points in a nice reverse layup.
The night was primed for David West, who returned to his alma mater at Xavier. Frank Vogel drew up the first play of the game for West, who hit a 10-foot jumper to up the game in Indiana's favor. West was 7-18 for the night, the sheer bulk of work West received tonight made it his best game of the preseason so far. He helped stifle Love and looked on point with his jumper, where he found most of his success.
Rodney Stuckey played well despite a 1-6 shooting night, getting to the line nine times by baiting Dion Waiters for all of his attempts. George Hill had a decent all around game with 11 points, five boards, and five assists, though some bad passes that plagued Indiana early came from Hill and miscommunications among the on the floor lineup. Roy Hibbert had some nice looks, but converted at a poor rate, going just 3-9 for eight points.
Indiana's bench showed some positives and negatives themselves, led by Chris Copeland, who had 16 points with four three point field goals. Copeland was not only sharp shooting the ball, but was downright active in helping the Pacers erase a 17-point third quarter deficit as they put themselves in position to win late. Luis Scola also reached double figures with 10 points, six rebounds, and four assists, but it was a surprisingly anonymous level of play with a pair of three point plays in the fourth. It was also another poor shooting night from Damjan Rudez, who was 0-6 and 0-3 from three point range, putting his potential rotation spot for a sharpshooter in jeopardy.
Ian Mahinmi did play very well despite getting roped into five fouls, putting himself in good position to go 4-5 with seven boards and a block. But Mahinmi would leave the game with a sore right shoulder injury, opposite the shoulder he injured in the World Cup. As Indiana works out their rotation, the one defensive constant in the second unit (assuming he's provided some semblance of officiating respect) is Mahinmi. Lavoy Allen seems capable of stepping in, but at a big height disadvantage, Indiana would be in an even more precarious situation without Mahinmi for any extended amount of time.
The Pacers enter the second half of their preseason schedule with just three games and 14 days remaining before they tip off at home against Philly. The Pacers will bus it back to Indianapolis as they prepare for a home game rematch against the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday. The game will the second of two televised preseason games for the Pacers.