Who is Indiana?
Are they are who we thought they were?
Or are the Blazers who we thought they weren’t?
Where’s Dennis Green when you need him?
The Blazers are 15-3. Indiana is 16-2.
Yet in their 18 games, Indiana has played exactly four teams above-.500, one of which is no longer (Chicago). That makes, say, four competitive games, two losses. Pretty average.
They play in
a black hole the Eastern Conference, so obviously, it’s not by choice they get to whoop all these terrible teams. Still, there’s only two teams above-.500 in the Eastern Conference. Washington is in limbo at 9-9.
What about Portland? They play in the western conference, where there are two teams under-.500 and a third hanging in limbo (Phoenix, 9-9).
As silly as it sounds, it’s not that far of a stretch to say that Portland is the better basketball team, and Indiana is overrated (the opposite of what we’ve been hearing for most of the season).
More likely, the truth is somewhere in between.
Throw out wins and losses. The 2013 NBA season could very well be historic for how terrible the East is. Measuring a team’s quality by their record in the East is akin to awarding pitchers Cy-Youngs based on the very same thing.
Going by advanced statistics always paints the bigger picture anyway.
Indiana is 1st in defensive efficiency, while Portland is 22nd (per John Hollinger’s team statistics).
Portland is 3rd in offensive efficiency, Indiana is 15th.
As far as championship recipes, I’ll take Indiana’s over Portland’s any day.
In the past 30 years, you’ll find a grand total of 2 teams that have won championships when their defensive was out of the top 10. Even then, there were reasons.
The Lakers took off the regular season in 2001 (21st), and the Rockets (12th) were a different team after a late trade for Clyde Drexler.
2006 Miami was the last truly questionable defense, and we all know they won because of
officiating Dwayne Wade’s brilliance.
The point is, defense matters. There’s a reason no one wants Mike D’Antoni as their coach. Well, almost nobody.
If you aggregate those stats, Indiana comes out on top, rated #2 in the league behind the Spurs. Portland comes in at #5. It’s actually a relatively large gap too, as Portland is more than 4 points behind Indiana (per Hollinger’s power-rankings).
Indiana is also outscoring its opponents by nearly twice the amount Portland is (10.22 PPG vs 5.00 PPG)
Again, not saying stats are everything, but they usually get it right. So Indiana’s better.
Probably, but even then, not by much.
If you watch basketball, and you can pass the Paul Pierce Test of Ultimate Basketball Truth (is Paul Pierce athletic? — people who say no fail. Seriously, here’s a clip of him dunking on the entire Nuggets team and the announcer actually says he was “slow” getting there. If you know things about basketball, you know Paul Pierce is not slow. He’s deceptively fast, yes, but certainly not slow) then you can probably see that Portland is good, and so is Indiana.
Watching Indiana on offense can resemble a train wreck from time to time. Paul George, for all the hoopla, is still pretty damn good but he’s hitting ridiculous mid-range shots that cannot possibly be sustainable (a la Wes Matthews).
If he does come back to earth (hey maybe not), that leaves Roy Hibbert to pick up the slack, who shot under 40% for most of last season. Danny Granger could certainly help, if we’re still under the opinion that Danny Granger is actually Danny Granger and not, say, a brittle, poor man’s Rudy Gay.
But their defense is undeniably suffocatingly awesome.
The Blazers are more traditionally aesthetic; they have a big man who can shoot, two players capable of putting the team on their shoulders (Lillard and Aldridge) plus phenomenal ball movement (for the most part — it can stick in Lillard’s hands sometimes) despite their pretty average defense (when is Nicolas Batum going to capitalize on that “potential”?).
I’d still give the Pacers the edge, as they have the best player and the best defense, but that’s not to take away from the Trailblazers. They aren’t going anywhere.
Playing in the Western Conference doesn’t help, but there’s no reason (with wins over San Antonio, Golden State and Indiana) to write them off, or even scoff at the idea of a deep playoff run.
So yes, the Pacers – and the Blazers – aren’t who we thought they were. But they’re still pretty damn good.