In the final days leading up to regular season action, SCH will be posting divisional previews of the top teams in all six NBA divisions. Come back early and often for updates.
Darren Collison vs. Deron Williams/Earl Watson
It’s hard to say exactly what the key matchups are going to be here. The Pacers always seem to be trading out half their roster, and basketball is a game of chemistry. From a Jazz perspective, I think I’m most excited to see how Darren Collison matches up against elite point guards like Deron Williams. It’ll be interesting to see how he fits into/runs the offense and if he really is as good as he looked running things in CP3’s absence last year. When you’re playing behind one of the elite PG’s, all you have to do is NOT be terrible and everyone is happy. He overachieved in that situation, and now it’s time to see if that was a contract/one time thing, or if he is the real deal.
Danny Granger v. Andrei Kirilenko (or anyone he plays).
Keep an eye on Danny Granger, who still stands as the Pacer’s biggest threat to any and all opponents (averaged 24.1 ppg last season). He’s an extremely high scoring player with an ability to stuff the stat sheet on any given night… the real question with Granger is this: will he take time away from scoring to do the other menial (read: “fundamental”) things that he could do well? He’s the kind of player that has the ability to take over a game at a moment’s notice… if he really wants to. A healthy (contract year) Andrei should be able to limit his scoring opportunities, or at least slow him down and force Granger to use his teammates.
The Pacers are a high octane offense. They run. Hard. They score fast and often, so if you can’t slow them down then you have to keep up. Unfortunately (for them), they have been terrible on the defensive side, which makes keeping up a bit easier.
The Pacers weren’t particularly great at anything last year. They were 16th in scoring, 19th in rebounding, and 23rd in points allowed, so until they pick some of those categories up, they’ll never really compete for the East.
Utah is 36-35 all time versus the Pacers, splitting two games last year. Last March when Utah played in Indiana, Granger scored 44 points (and had a 4 point play), showing how dangerous he really is. The Pacers need a playoff spot this year, and they can punish defenses that don’t take them seriously. If the Jazz sleep on them at all, it’ll be a quick loss. Saying that, if the Jazz play hard, they should dispense of Indiana pretty handily.
Here’s a random stat for you: On October 22, 1989 the Jazz scored their fewest points in franchise history (65) versus Indiana (in Indy). That game also stands as Utah’s greatest loss differential (-35). What’s that mean to the team this year? Nothing, but you’ll sound smart when you toss those numbers out over lunch when the Jazz face the Pacers this year.
As the second fastest team last year (I feel like I’ve mentioned their speed 15+ times in this article), you can bet that the Pacer’s coach, Jim O’Brien, will keep the team running. Add Collison’s ability to distribute the ball from point, and you can look for the Pacers system to improve from last year. Saying that, if I had to bet my life on one game between Jim O’Brien + Darren Collison, and Jerry Sloan + Deron Williams, I’m going with our Utah boys. Every. Single. Time.
The Pacers need to do three things to have a successful season:
1) Develop their core: At some point, you have to play the hand you’ve been dealt. Granger is healthy, they have a great distributor in Collison, and you have some solid pieces (Rush, Dunleavy, Hansborough). You know you’re not going to challenge for the top of the east, but you can focus on developing the team and finally establishing a core to build around.
2) Stay healthy: Everything hinges on this. It seems silly because every team needs to stay healthy, but the Pacers are working with a razor thin bench, which means they have almost no margin for error. If they lose any key players, the season could slip away quickly.
3) Make the playoffs: The top of the east is strong, but the bottom is still a bit of a mess. The Pacers have a good opportunity to squeak into the 7 or 8 spot this year. Do that and make a bit of a stand with your core team intact, and I’d consider the season a success.
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