NBA PM: Paul George Ready To Lead Pacers
The Indiana Pacers were expecting to have a big lift as they traveled to Dallas to play the Mavericks on Thursday night. The highly-anticipated return of Danny Granger was slated to happen, but instead, shortly before game time, it was announced that rather than returning Granger would be undergoing season-ending knee surgery.
“It’s tough to hear, especially when we know how Danny’s been battling it all year long and trying to get back healthy and back to 100 percent,” Pacers forward Paul George told HOOPSWORLD. “It’s tough. We all know where he’s at mentally as far as wanting to play. You definitely want to play. For us to be doing so well and having the year that we’re having, of course you want to be part of that. Of course you want to be a part of that and be on the court. Not that he’s not a part of it now, but there’s really so much that Danny brings that we really could have used come playoff time.”
Granger has already missed all but five games of the 2012-13 season, and his absence has been sorely felt by George, his replacement in the starting lineup.
“Well, since I’ve been on this team, even going back to when I was working out, Danny was the first guy I met and was a role model to be around, even around my draft process,” George said. “He’s been a big brother to me, he’s been a mentor, he’s always encouraging me, teaching me the ins and outs in the whole game. On offense, how to get to certain spots, just how to create and be a professional.”
For his part, George has flourished in his new role with the team. He’s putting up career-best across the board, averaging 17.7 points, 7.8 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game and was even on the 2013 NBA All-Star Game in Houston last month.
“Yeah, I could credit Danny for that as well,” said the humble George. “He was somebody who was in my ear, who was an additional coach for me. It just took time, trying to find out how teams were guarding me, a lot of film sessions I had to watch. But now, it’s just about me being comfortable and playing with confidence.”
As an organization, the Pacers couldn’t be happier with the way George has responded to the increased minutes and the way he has all but replaced Granger’s production.
“What’s happening with Paul was going to happen either way,” All-Star power forward David West said. “He’s a great player. He’s young, he’s humble, he has all the intangibles in terms of his physical abilities. It was going to happen either way, but it just so happened that the opportunity presented itself a little sooner than anybody expected.”
“It’s really amazing how far he’s come,” Pacers GM Kevin Pritchard told HOOPSWORLD. “We knew, Larry Bird, who drafted him, knew how good of player he could be on the defensive side. Now he’s becoming a great all-around player, high-end offense, high-end defense. That’s unique in this league, to do well on both sides of the ball. Really, the sky is the limit.”
The return of Granger could obviously have given the Pacers a tremendous lift heading into the final month of the regular season, but the reality is that the team has in many ways already replaced him in the lineup. George has proven time and time again that he’s ready to lead Indiana to a deep playoff run, and if he steps up his game in the playoffs the way he has through the year, Indiana could turn out to be a very tough out, Granger or no Granger.
A Tight Coach Of The Year Race?
The top coach in the NBA is often determined by which team has the best record in the league for a given season. San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich often gets a great deal of consideration for both that reason and also because he is widely regarded as the best coach in the league anyway. The Miami HEAT are also going to garner some attention for Erik Spoelstra because they have the best record and are coming off of a 27-game winning streak, the second-longest winning streak in the history of the NBA. Those are the two obvious candidates, but who else should be under consideration?
The Oklahoma City Thunder are not quite as good as expected, but they are the second team in the West, right on the heels of the Spurs. Does that make Scott Brooks a candidate? Frank Vogel’s Indiana Pacers have been one of the league’s top teams all season despite playing without leading scorer Danny Granger. The Denver Nuggets just used a 15-game winning streak to move into the West’s top four, which should get George Karl some consideration. Perhaps Tom Thibodeau is a dark horse candidate for the way he has kept the Chicago Bulls winning despite the season-long absence of former MVP Derrick Rose? We might also include Mike Woodson, who has kept the New York Knicks near the top of the Eastern Conference despite an array of injuries.
It’s time to cast your vote. Take your pick from the list of coaches in the poll below, or make the case for someone else in the comments section at the bottom of the page. Let the voting begin!
Taj Gibson On Ending “The Streak”
The Miami HEAT looked like they might just break the all-time NBA winning streak record before the Chicago Bulls, minus two All-Star starters, brought them to a screeching halt earlier this week. Forward Taj Gibson had a lot to do with the win, first by fouling LeBron James on what would have been an easy dunk, and then by drilling a huge bucket in the waning moments to assure Chicago of the win.
“We just went out and played our normal style of basketball,” Gibson said in a recent interview with ESPN Chicago. “We just got back to the basics. We’re normally a real dominant rebounding team. We try to help each other on defense. One thing we just did is play a little bit harder, because they really embarrassed us the last time they played in Chicago, and we really didn’t like the way they were celebrating. So we just came out and put forth more effort and guys stepped up.”
Gibson’s 16-foot jumper from the baseline gave Chicago a 94-85 lead with 2:15 left in the game, but even then he didn’t feel like his team’s lead was secure.
“Well, not really,” said Gibson. “Even though we made tough shots, that team is always one of those teams that keeps fighting, especially late. We went from having like almost a nine-point lead to it was 94-89. I was like, here we go again. But we handled ourselves well. We’ve got guys that can really step up late.”
James maintains that Gibson collared him on a lay-up attempt with 4:01 left in the game, despite replays that show otherwise.
“I didn’t try to collar him, I just fouled him,” said Gibson. “It wasn’t intentionally. I was just trying to make a play on the ball, but I fouled him. I was really trying to grab him, just trying to hold him up. Nobody’s intentionally trying to hurt anybody out there. When he said those comments, I was really shocked, but it’s part of the game I guess. You can’t expect the game to be so lightly taken after you just blew us out by 20 the last time we played you guys.”
Ending Miami’s winning streak was big for the Bulls, but Gibson was also quick to put it in a bigger perspective.
“It’s pretty big. It’s history, but at the same time, it’s a bigger picture,” Gibson explained. “We’re still trying to get guys back healthy. We’re trying to get ourselves in a good groove going late, trying to make a nice playoff run. We never even want to let a team come and blow us out the way they did last game. We just responded well.”
It remains to be seen, of course, how the Bulls will respond when the playoffs start. They have struggled of late, playing just .500 ball over their last ten games, but they are now riding a three-game winning streak and hoping to get it together for a playoff run.
“I think we have a good shot,” said Gibson. “I just think you never really know in the playoffs. It’s all about matchups, all about key guys being ready at the right times. Looking at how we fare against the East, I think our chances will be real high.”
Their chances increase exponentially, of course, if injured All-Star Derrick Rose returns to the lineup, though no one is sure if and when that might happen.
“It depends on how he’s feeling,” said Gibson. “Derrick works his tail off every day. I know, slowly but surely, he’ll probably get back out there, because I know what kind of player, what kind of person he is. … It’s all about how he feels.”
The Bulls have been a somewhat enigmatic team this season, putting together impressive wins and climbing the standings with key members of the team out of action, but also suffering through hapless stretches where even the worst teams in the league pose a challenge. Their current winning streak includes wins over Eastern powerhouses Miami and Indiana, but prior to that they lost games to non-playoff teams like Portland and Sacramento. It remains to be seen which Bulls team shows up for the playoffs, but it’s a safe bet they’re going to need Rose back to have much hope of challenging the HEAT and Pacers.
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