In the muddled Eastern Conference, not much separates the fifth-ranked Atlanta Hawks from the 12th-ranked Miami Heat. (Un)Comfortably in that mediocre middle sit both the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons.
The Pacers find themselves in a somewhat more enviable position, sitting seventh in the East with a bonafide two-way star in Paul George and an emerging one in Myles Turner. The Pistons, meanwhile, have plenty of talent but little in the way of consistency, leadership, and defensive intensity. Sometimes I wonder how Detroit can have this roster and be this bad (16-20, 10th). Other times, I look at this roster and I struggle to understand how there are more than 10 teams even worse than them.
When: 7:30 p.m. EST
Where: Palace of Auburn Hills
Watch: Fox Sports Detroit
The Pacers bet big time on a “new way” this offseason. Gone was defensive wunderkind Frank Vogel and his pedestrian offense. Also packing his bags was the sneaky dangerous George Hill who was deemed too methodical for the incoming frenetic offensive force Indiana wanted to build. In their places was promoted assistant Nate McMillan and Hawks castoff Jeff Teague.
The results so far have been decidedly mixed. Indiana still finds themselves stuck in neutral around .500, the pace has barely increased and the defense has fallen from top-3 to 15th.
Teague and fellow newcomer Thaddeus Young seem to be holding up their end of the bargain, and Turner seems to be taking “the step” we all wish we were seeing from Stanley Johnson. But the team still lacks outside shooting as Turner is not a fully stretched out stretch big at this point in his career. The Pacers are bottom-five in 3-point shooting frequency and outside of George and the underrated CJ Miles, there are no real perimeter threats.
Having Turner and Young on the floor also leaves them susceptible to giving up quite a bit on the glass and it’s difficult to protect the paint. With all that said, it’s somewhat surprising that the Pacers have managed to even be mediocre on defense. In diving into the stats it’s pretty clear the ingredient to their secret sauce is to force their opponent to live off of 3-pointers.
The Pacers allow opponents to hoist 29.7 threes per game, and they only allow 33.3 percent off of those shots. Only the Warriors are better. Is this luck or a deliberate scheme? Not watching tons of Pacers games, I’d say it’s hard to tell definitevely. However, the biggest clue might lie in more stats I found in my mother’s basement during the holidays.
The Pacers give up 14.2 wide open 3s (no defender within 6 feet) per game but opponents are shooting only 37.8 percent, 18th in NBA). On open looks they allow 11.4 more attempts and allow just 29.3 percent, the lowest mark in the league. So if I was a betting man, I’d say there is more luck involved than not.
Unfortunately, the Pistons are not exactly the perfect team to take advantage of these open looks. Detroit is near the bottom of both 3-point attempts and makes per game.
Instead, the Pistons will have to rely on the broad (and hairy) shoulders of Andre Drummond. Dre will have to control the boards and exploit Indiana’s lack of size. Defensively, he will need to not get murdered by Turners face-up game.
In the previous between the two teams Indiana won 105-90 behind a stellar offensive night from Paul George and to a lesser extent Jeff Teauge. Teague is nursing an ankle issue, but is expected to give it a go tonight for the Pacers.
The Pistons, meanwhile, will probably be without backup center Aron Baynes, who rolled his ankle in Detroit’s victory against the Miami Heat and was seen after the game in a walking boot.
That means reserve center duties will likely be split between Jon Leuer and perhaps some Boban Marjanovic when Indiana turns to the beefy Al Jefferson.
Pistons: Reggie Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Marcus Morris, Jon Leuer, Andre Drummond
Pacers: Jeff Teague, Glenn Robinson III, Paul George, Thaddeus Young, Myles Turner
I’m not smart enough to predict wins and losses, but I’ll say this game will feature both teams getting better than 106 points and add a bunch of frustration to both fan bases.
How many 3s will the Pistons attempt? How many will they hit?