I was a little concerned about tonight's game against the Nets. The Pacers had beaten them easily in their previous game 5 days ago (103-86) in Brooklyn, and the long layoff plus the revenge factor for Brooklyn meant a potential letdown game.
But to the Pacers' credit, they didn't overlook the Nets and cruised to a 105-91 victory following a relatively tight first half. Lance Stephenson flirted with a triple-double and finished with 23, 9 and 7, and most of all he's starting to make it look consistent. Paul George had 24 points on 9-13 shooting, George Hill had 21 points, David West had 10, 7 and 6, and Roy Hibbert had 11.
Danny Granger, who was scoreless the last time these two teams met, had 8 points on 3-9 shooting, with 3 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal, with just 1 turnover in 23 minutes. Not eye-popping numbers, but Granger is looking a lot more comfortable out there. He dove to the floor on one possession after the ball was popped away from Jason Terry (he was called for the foul but it was encouraging to see him do that without hesitation), and shortly after that he drove into the lane and scored on a left hand layup. That was something I hadn't seen from him since he had been back as he had been content just standing out the three-point line. And in the second half Paul George found him on a strong cut into the lane and he finished on the layup, plus the foul from Paul Pierce.
Granger has never looked like an explosive player even in his prime, but he looked sluggish and a step slow in his first few games back. Tonight he looked more comfortable and confident, and as long as he can stay healthy I believe he will eventually be able to provide some semblance of consistent bench production. Tonight's performance is encouraging.
The Pacers could make a move before the trade deadline this season, but even if they don't the roster is looking pretty good. The starting lineup is already one of the best in the league at both ends of the floor, and Paul George and Lance Stephenson are still both improving, the latter apparently throughout the course of the season. The bench is starting to become more reliable as Luis Scola has learned to become more comfortable being a bench scorer, CJ Watson is just solid, even when he can't make shots, Ian Mahinmi has finally emerged as a consistent contributor, at least on defense, and Danny Granger remains the wild card who can take them to another level. And guys like Chris Copeland haven't even gotten an opportunity to show what they can do.
Oh, and the locker room chemistry is great and everyone believes in the message preached by coach Frank Vogel.
The Pacers are now 24-5 on the season and hold a 2-game edge on the Miami Heat, who lost in OT to Sacramento as they rested a bunch of guys. But that strategy also backfired as LeBron injured his groin and will miss tonight's game against the Blazers, meaning another loss could be on the books (fingers crossed).