Tom Lewis of Indy Cornrows stopped by to answer a few questions before tonight's 7 pm ET tip-off in Atlanta.
Daniel Christian: Obviously, the biggest difference between last year and this year for the Pacers is the return of Paul George. He changes everything. But some other additions, like Monta Ellis, have been important too. Given that the Pacers have been relatively healthy, do you think they've lived up to expectations this year? What were those expectations?
Tom Lewis: Positive expectations for the Pacers this year were to be a playoff team in the East with the hopeful return of Paul George as an impact player. The Pacers exceeded those expectations early in the year thanks in large part to Paul George playing the best basketball of his life. Unfortunately, PG wore down and the team struggled mightily in January but they remain in playoff contention and seem to be settling back into those preseason expectations. While PG remains key to their ultimate success, the team has adjusted and found ways to succeed when he isn't carrying the load. That and a lighter schedule through March should bode well for the Pacers remaining in the playoff race the rest of the way.
DC: Speak a little, if you would, about the play of Myles Turner this year. A lot of scouts saw him as a pretty unrefined prospect, but he's had an immediate impact. What's impressed you about his game, and what are the next logical improvements in his development?
TL: The emergence of Myles Turner has really helped smooth out the playing rotation and let the team play big but still play a faster pace than past years with Roy Hibbert and David West in the lineup. At 19, Turner has exceptional shot-blocking instincts, shoots the ball real well from 20-feet and in and most importantly doesn't shy away when a play is there to be made (as LeBron James found out on Monday). Turner is quick in the post but does need to refine his back-to-the-basket game which could make him really tough to handle and lead to a lot of free throws. Eventually, that perimeter range will extend to the three-point line which should allow the Pacers to play more spread lineups without having to give up rim protection on the defensive end.
DC: The East is pretty jumbled and the Pacers are currently sitting 7th in the conference standings. Who is a realistic, ideal first round playoff match up for this team? What do you think the postseason ceiling is for this group?
TL: The East is a quagmire and while the Pacers have played the Cavs well this year, they certainly don't want to draw LeBron and the boys in the first round. I think they'd take their chances against the remaining contenders and considering they are just two games out of third (and conversely two games out of the lottery) projecting an opponent is a challenge. If they can get over the nagging injuries and take advantage of a home-heavy schedule on the horizon, the Pacers should shoot for a 6,5,4-ish seed. That said, winning a playoff series and flaming out in the second round seems a logical ceiling.
DC: Lastly, what do you think about tonight's matchup? Is there anything in particular you'll be watching for? Would you care to give a prediction?
TL: The Pacers have suffered plenty of heartache in Philips Arena in recent years which may not necessarily be due to the arena but rather spending a night off in Atlanta. Regardless, getting an early spark from Paul George and/or Monta Ellis is always a good indication that the rest of the team will follow. Turnovers have been a big problem in losses and again, focus PG and Monta since they have had the most issues valuing the ball. Fortunately, both players are due for a big-impact game so I'm counting on at least one of them to give the Pacers a boost leading to a win, 102-95. Hey, if I don't predict a Pacers win, who will?