I really like Rick Carlisle. I liked him next to Calabro, I liked him in Detroit and I like him in Indiana. I really like Larry Bird. I grew within an hour of Boston in the 70's and 80's, so you can guess who I idolized and wanted to be. I NEVER played Jordan in Jordan vs. Bird on friend's Commodore 64. My positive feelings about Indiana end there. Brawls, shootings, Artest (I know he's gone, but I still "feel" him there) and Jackson are two of my least favorite people in the NBA. On a side note I have it in for Artest because I picked him for my fantasy league the year of the brawl and it cost me the season. They got Jermaine O'Neal for nothing while we are STILL waiting for a big to balance out our offense. They let the Lakers beat them in the finals a few years back when I REALLY, REALLY wanted LA to lose. I can't even grumble more about why I don't like them. I just don't. Tonight I have to face the potential that my team will likely be embarassed and abused by another team I don't like, in my own arena. I would really like the Sonics to win this one, just so I can gloat in my own superficial, unjustified, empty, vengeful moment of satisfaction.
Indiana is not a great offensive team. They are 23rd in the league in points per game, 28th in the league for FG%, 11th in the league for 3FG%, and 6th in the league for assists per game. They are averaging 103 points per 100 possessions and 92.6 possessions per game. They are a little faster than last year, and a little less efficient. As a team they shoot a 46.9% eFG% which puts them about 28th in the league. They turn the ball over even more than the Sonics, with 18.2 per game. They are 14th in the league at offensive rebounding and they are getting 26 shots per game at the line.
Their most effective players offensively at the moment are Jamaal Tinsley, Darrell Armstrong, Danny Granger, Jermaine O'Neal and Al Harrington. Jackson is always a threat with his size and his streaky shooting. Sarunas Jasikevicius has proven that he can hit the NBA three, and Jeff Foster is a pain in Seattle's hide on the offensive boards.
Seattle must control Tinsley, keep Jackson from finding his rythm, box out Foster on the defensive end and simply make O'Neal work for his paycheck. The Sonics are not a defensive team, and they are not likely to stop Tinsley or Jackson, but they need to be aware of the dangers and keep those guys on their averages. There is no reason for the Sonics to allow Foster, Granger, Jackson or Harrington to put up big numbers. If those guys go off the game is done.
Seattle also needs to apply pressure on Indiana since they allow the 5th most steals in the league and have the 5th most turnovers, they are clearly vulnerable to pressure.
The Sonics have only two losses where they actually won the rebounding battle, Philadelphia and Sacramento. If the Sonics want to win, they have to rebound. Both teams are good offensive rebounding teams (Seattle is 6th in the league and Indiana is 14th) but Indiana is a better defensive rebounding team. Indiana is 12th in total rebounds, while Seattle is a lowly 28th. The good news is that means about four rebounds per game. That is something that can be addressed. Both teams are in the top ten for steals, but Indiana allows more steals (hence the larger number of turnovers.)
Nick needs to find his jumper if he is going to start. Wilcox needs to get touches on the break off some of those defensive rebounds and steals. The other night I saw Ray, Earl and Luke ignore Wilcox on the break with a clear path to the basket and an available passing lane. Wilcox was furious at each one. I wonder if they are bypassing him on purpose, perhaps due to his comments in the press about not wanting to show up his mates. Swallow your pride boys and pass to the leaper, PLEASE.
Earl needs to stop jacking up the three and remember to take the ball to the basket. He should NEVER have more 3FGA's than FT's. Wilkins has had five good games this season, most of those included free throws and rebounds...he needs to focus on getting to the line and rebounding, let the shots come to him.
Harrington and Jackson have good size for guarding Lew and Ray, but they can be had with good solid ball movement and well executed picks. Collison can take Foster. Wilcox needs to get O'Neal out of the way so Nick can do some damage down low, finally he has a guy that won't smother him with length.
This game is definitely winnable. The Pacers aren't playing great and the Sonics need to take advantage of that fact.
Check out Kevin Pelton's "Insider Preview" or for a view from the other side, check out the Pacers "Scouting Report."