Dennis Velasco: Hey, Tom! Well, it's good to be working with you again after our brief collabo years ago for The New York Times' About Basketball site. Around that time, the Indiana Pacers were consistently getting about 30+ wins for a string of seasons, Rick Carlisle was the coach, then he wasn't, Jim O'Brien came along and it was an overall blah kind of period for the Pacers. Fast forward to the present day - what a turnaround from then to now where the Pacers are considered one of a few teams that could topple the NBA defending champion, Miami Heat, this season, and very well almost did it this recent postseason!
I think the answer was always there regarding how to beat the Heat - take advantage of their lack of size/interior - but to see it actually put into practice by the Pacers during the 2013 NBA Playoffs probably made that strategy a little more tangible. Perhaps, it's part of the impetus for the Nets getting Kevin Garnett, drafting Mason Plumlee, being thankful they have Andray Blatche as a back-up, Andrei Kirilenko's length and the "ceiling is still high, we just need him to play KG-angry" Brook Lopez. So, in some ways, thank you, Pacers.
The Pacers are coming into Brooklyn to face the Nets on Saturday night in a battle between two of the upper-tier teams in the Eastern Conference. As of this writing (Friday afternoon), the Pacers, who play the Toronto Raptors on Friday night, are the only undefeated NBA team this season at 5-0. Their defense is ranked number one in points allowed (84.4) and they are fourth in rebounding (45.8) - numbers that are consistent with their philosophy and personnel. A big dap is due to Frank Vogel, one of my favorite coaches right now. Can you elaborate on his influence on the team? It's obvious that he was a big reason for the Pacers turning it around after O'Brien was sent packing. Also, can you tell us three to five things that Nets fans should know about this season's Pacers team?
Tom Lewis: Hey Dennis! Great to chat with you again as the Pacers prepare to play New York City's best team in the Nets.
Frank Vogel's impact on the Pacers was almost immediate as he took over a brow-beaten team and took a positive approach that seemed completely over the top. Except somehow, all of his proclamations seem to come to fruition. Now his players are fully engaged and buy into what the coaching staff is selling. Oh, and those players bring a whole lot more talent to the court now than the team he took over from JOB.
Also, Danny Granger continues to sit out with a calf strain while trying to return to the court. There was some thought from Larry Bird and the coaching staff that Granger would start, but the stellar play of Stephenson should change that line of thinking.
DV: Vogel falls into the category of not being a re-tread former NBA coach with a ton of experience that is lacking the enthusiasm and innovation of younger coaches. I hope that he eventually falls into this category though because it means he's had a long coaching career. Ha! In all seriousness, it's good to read that he paid his dues and earned his spot at the top. Well-earned.
Paul George scares me. I remember when he was showing flashes of being as good as he is now, the comparisons to Tracy McGrady were abounding. However, while it may be a fair comparison, I think PG is going to end up being a way better defender than T-Mac. Do you think this will be his breakout superstar season? The key for George thus far has been his ability to shoot a higher field goal percentage - 48.3 percent this season versus a 43.3 percent lifetime average - and making a whole trey more than last season (3.2 makes from 2.2). Do you think this shooting display is sustainable for a whole season?
Regarding injuries, Hill was such an important piece to the Pacers' run last season and so was Watson for the Nets... until he missed that stupid dunk versus the Chicago Bulls in the first round. HATE YOU, WATSON! In any case, how important is Hill and the still-injured Granger? Will the latter even make a difference this season since the Pacers have depth at the wing? And where does Luis Scola and Chris Copeland fit in? Would you consider Scola a disappointment thus far relative to the hype and promise placed upon that acquisition during the offseason?
Finally, final score for the game and how does it happen?
TL: The Paul George breakout is going full throttle. After making the NBA All-Star team last year and winning the NBA Most Improved Player award last year, PG is already hearing M-V-P chants at the Fieldhouse. If he maintains this level of play throughout the year he will be in the conversation with the most elite wings in the league because he's doing it on both ends. Kevin Durant is a ridiculous offensive talent, but PG is at that level on the defensive side. Then you throw in scoring 25 points and grabbing 8 rebounds and there aren't many players doing more for their team.