Paul George took it to the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday night, scoring 31 points. Photo by Ron Hoskins (Pacers.com)
For the past seven games Paul George has been mired in the muck of a season worst shooting slump. At a paltry 35 percent from the field and a downright frightening 9-43 from three point range the early season magic of an MVP run at LeBron James seemed to be gone. The shots that had all come so easily early in the season for #24 were now falling short regularly. He looked tired.
The effects of this slump were clearly evident in the team’s sluggish play. The Pacers continued to maintain the best record in the NBA, but at 88.5 points per game over seven games the offense was anything but smooth. The crisp ball movement that had accompanied the team for 20-something games seemed to be missing. It was only by ratcheting up a league best defense that Indiana continued to grind out wins.
What a difference a few days rest can make. Scratch the shooting slump and forget about ugly offense. In the Pacers’ 116-92 blowout of the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday night George busted out from his shooting slump in a big way, going for 31 points on 10-18 from the field and 4-7 on three pointers. As he got hot the team operated smoothly, with 116 points representing a season high water mark. Judging by some of the passing and a little bit of showmanship that took place in the second half, most of the Pacers gained a lot of energy from George’s offensive outburst. When this team has a stretch of play like it did against the Kings it seems invincible. The immediate payoff came in the form of a league best 30-7 record and Frank Vogel clinching his spot as the Eastern Conference head coach for next month’s NBA All-Star game.
Time will tell whether this night signals another offensive run by George that could propel him back into the MVP discussion with King James. George is certainly not the all around player that James is, but should the Pacers stay healthy he may have a chance at stealing the award. He’s a rising star and the national media seems ready to embrace the next big thing.
Indiana is likely to continue to beat most teams simply by playing the best lockdown defense in the league. George is certainly a big part of that equation and his willingness to play both ways draws its share of raves. At this point in the season it would be a big surprise if the Pacers don’t win at least 60 games. A glance at the schedule tells you that without major injuries they should probably a few more than that. If the Pacers can bring the efficient offense that we’ve seen for much of the season the league’s best record should be a realistic and, ultimately, attainable goal.
What does all this mean? Indiana and its best player should see the spotlight grow only brighter as the season goes on. In many ways the Pacers can become a sentimental favorite with fans — but probably not the league office — hoping someone can come along and knock the Miami Heat from the catbird seat. Hopefully George embraces the spotlight and continues to improve at the exponential rate that we’ve seen over the last season and a half. If that happens there no telling what heights he can scale.
Tags: As Expected