The Mavericks will play the second game of their three game road trip with a quick stop in Indianapolis to take on the Pacers (5-7). The Mavericks (9-2) have taken the last four meetings against the Pacers with their last loss coming at Indiana on Feb. 4, 2005. A little more than 2 months before that game, the most infamous in-game moment in recent NBA history would change the Pacers organization in a way that they are still reeling from to this day. The Mavericks played that game against a short-handed Pacers squad who was without Stephen Jackson, who sat the game out despite returning from suspension several games before. And of course, Ron Artest was finishing up the rest of the season on suspension.
That season, Indiana would go on to make it past the first round of the playoffs before returning to the scene of the crime and being dispatched by the eventual Eastern Conference champion Pistons in the semifinals. The Pacers would amble on into the 2005-06 with the same core before finally finding someone to take a gigantic piece of baggage off their hands. The Kings were their taker and gave the Pacers Peja Stojakovic for Ron Artest. They would make the playoffs that season and exit in the first round. Stojakovic would be gone a few months later during the summer, and they would trade the recently acquired Al Harrington and constant ne'er-do-well Stephen Jackson to the Warriors in January of last season. Poor Rick Carlisle. Caught in the middle of the knuckleheads on his team, he eventually became the fall guy for a situation that was really out of his control. After receiving a contract extension in 2006, he was fired the following summer. The sweep was completed.
Who are these guys?
After the Pacers decided to clean house and get the bad memories and headache players shipped out, they didn't bother to put together much of a squad. They ultimately got nothing for Artest. Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington turned into Mike Dunleavy, Troy Murphy and Ike Diogu. Dunleavy and Murphy have been as mediocre as ever and Diogu is out until December with a calf injury. For better or worse, the team's identity remains with Jermaine O'Neal. Third-year player Danny Granger is having a breakout year after a solid sophomore campaign. If the Pacers intend to start from scratch by trading Jermaine O'Neal away, Granger could likely be the one piece they refuse to part with.
After coaching the Pacers for four seasons, Rick Carlisle led Indiana to a 35-47 record, their worst finish since 1989. Even if it wasn't all his fault, the Pacers decided to go a different direction and gave Carlisle the boot. Now, after two years off from coaching, Jim O'Brien was brought in to right the ship. He has the team overachieving thus far at 5-7 as many analysts predicted the Pacers as one of the worst, if not the bottom team in the Eastern Conference. With an up-tempo style that fits the players on this current Pacer team, O'Brien has a team that can score in bunches. They don't have much in the way of defense, which has to drive the defensive-minded O'Brien a little crazy, but they are having a reasonable amount of success with Obie's offensive style.
O'Neal injured, struggling early
If the Pacers are thinking of dealing Jermaine O'Neal, he isn't doing them any favors. He's playing his worst basketball since he was with Portland in 1999-2000 and playing 12.3 minutes per game. His averages of 13.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks are all his worst in seven years and he's shooting a putrid 38.8 percent from the floor. He tweaked his surgically repaired left knee Tuesday and missed the Pacers' game Wednesday against New Orleans. The knee likely has something to do with his troubles this season, and he won't play tonight either. Even if he was there, the Mavs would still likely have an open run at the basket. With him gone, there's no doubt Devin Harris and Josh Howard will be slashing at will throughout the night. Indiana is 26th in the league in defense, and a large part of that comes with their failure to defend down low.
Granger is the key
With a bunch of role players and the team's best big man hurting, somebody has to step up and be "the guy." Danny Granger has been that so far and is quickly becoming the face of the franchise. He's leading the team in scoring with 18.1 points per game and has no trouble scoring from all over the court and is especially dangerous from three-point land. He's a great defender with a long wingspan and has a reputation for being a defensive stopper. With O'Neal out, the Pacers would be rather unwise to stick defensive cupcake Troy Murphy to guard Dirk, which means you could see the more athletic, albeit smaller defender in Granger.
Dunleavy not looking awful
When you do what the Pacers did and trade two tarnished quarters for three shiny dimes, you can't ever expect the dimes to buy you as much. Strangely enough, forward Mike Dunleavy has been giving more than his ten cents and has been playing pretty well. Most will remember Dunleavy as just another guy eating up minutes with Golden State over the previous five seasons. Somehow, Jim O'Brien has him averaging career highs in points (15.8) and rebounds (6.2) and Obie's up-tempo offensive style is obviously going well for the Duke product.
Just in case you forgot, former Maverick Marquis Daniels still runs the floor in Indiana, although not all that much. Averaging 18.1 minutes per game, it's obvious that the Pacers haven't made him a focal point since acquiring him for Austin Croshere in 2006. Lately, he has been doing more with the minutes he gets averaging almost 13 points per game over his last four games. Daniels will likely be a little amped playing against his old team, so keep an eye on him while he's in the game.
-Scooter Hendon, Hoops Nerd