Though his scoring average isn’t at its usual level, Jermaine O’Neal has been the Pacers’ go-through guy on offense. Which is to say whether or not he winds up with a shot, O’Neal’s presence dictates much of what the team is able to accomplish.
Starting with Tuesday’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers, O’Neal plans to begin re-establishing himself as a pre-eminent low-post scorer. Limited by a lack of strength in his left knee through the first few weeks of the season, O’Neal said Monday he’s getting closer to 100 percent and plans to become more assertive as a result
“I look at where we’re at right now and where I’m at physically, I’m on schedule to get back to where I need to be,” he said. “Obviously, I need to score some more points, get some more rebounds, block some more shots but we’re only 10 games in and we kind of game myself a 10-game cushion to get my rhythm going, get my cardio going. I’m really looking forward to (Tuesday’s) game to really pick it up on the offensive end of the floor.”
O’Neal has led the Pacers in scoring the past six seasons, averaging between 19.0 and 24.3 points, but currently stands fourth on the team at 13.1 to go with 7.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.6 blocked shots. He has been and will remain a willing passer but O’Neal’s scoring opportunities should increase as the team continues to gain comfort with Coach Jim O’Brien’s system.
“I think that'll take care of itself,” O’Brien said. “We are not doing justice to his game with our spacing. What we're looking to get is, when he gets the basketball in the low post, we need a cutter to go at the rim for him to be able to find him. We don't need three cutters because all of a sudden there he is with the basketball in the low post with three of our offensive guys and three of their defensive guys and it's very, very difficult for him to score in crowds. I think his offensive productivity, he'll score at a high level and he'll assist at a high level. He'll assist at a level we have not seen from Jermaine in his career.”
O’Neal’s reduced scoring led Denver Coach George Karl to suggest Danny Granger has emerged as the team’s primary option. Though Granger is the leading scorer (17.8), the offense nevertheless runs through O’Neal.
“I think our offense has to run through Jermaine,” said O’Brien. “That doesn't mean Jermaine's going to be the guy that scores the most points. It means Jermaine, for a guy his size, is going to be a big assist guy this year. He'll probably in the long run be our high scorer.”
The Lakers (6-3) begin a wicked stretch of three games in four nights for the Pacers against Western Conference opponents with a combined record of 22-8. They travel to New Orleans to face the 9-2 Hornets Wednesday then face Dallas (7-3) at home Friday.
First, they must contend with Kobe Bryant.
“He’s the best player in the world,” said O’Brien. “He’s been able to put up enormous amounts of points when he puts his mind to it. If he’s interested in scoring, he’s going to score. They’re off to a very good start because they’re getting a great combination of his scoring and ability to play the triangle and create opportunities for everybody. He is one of the best at both ends of the court. Defensively, he showed for USA Basketball this summer he’s one of the great shut-down guys in the world. And his ability to score the basketball is second to none.”
Granger will draw the defensive assignment against Bryant but likely will have plenty of help. The Pacers will benefit from the presence of Marquis Daniels, who sat out three of the previous six games to rest his tender left knee but appears ready to return to the rotation full-time.
“I think we’ll be able to have him for both games (Tuesday and Wednesday) as long as we don’t play him an enormous amount of minutes,” O’Brien said. “I think he’s rounding the corner, frankly.”
Marquis Daniels has totaled 36 points in 46 minutes while shooting 15-of-21 from the field in his last two appearances. … Indiana is 4-3 when Daniels has played, 0-3 when he has not. … Jeff Foster has averaged 10.7 rebounds in the last three. … Danny Granger has averaged 19.5 points on .506 shooting overall and .485 from the 3-point line at home, compared to 15.3 points, .339 shooting and .158 from the arc on the road. … Kareem Rush has shot 8-of-26 overall and 2-of-10 from the arc in the last five. … Jamaal Tinsley has 38 assists against seven turnovers, a 5.42:1 ratio, in four victories. In six defeats, he has 36 assists and 21 turnovers, a 1.71:1 ratio. … In four wins, the Pacers have averaged 111.0 points on .476 shooting. In six losses, they’ve averaged 93.2 points on .406 shooting. … In four wins, Indiana holds a 111-87 advantage in points of turnovers. In six losses, opponents hold a 112-86 advantage.
The teams have split the past four seasons with each protecting its home court. The Lakers’ last win in Conseco Fieldhouse came on Feb. 4, 2003. The Lakers lead 49-18 overall and 19-14 in Indianapolis.
Pacers - F Ike Diogu (left calf strain) is out.
Lakers - F Ronny Turiaf (left ankle sprain) is questionable; C Kwame Brown (ankle, knee) is out.
Ugh...does this mean slowing it down, forcing fadeaway jumpers while everyone not named Jeff Foster is 2 feet behind the arc.
I swear to God I'll go apesh*t if at some point O'Brien starts talking about the unimportance of offensive rebounds so that we can be in position to stop the fast break.
Opinion time. Will JO be satisfied if at the end of the season if Granger averages more points than he does?