Can the Indiana Pacers get the top seed in the East?

That’s the question everyone is asking as the Pacers have jumped out to an 8-0 start. Paul George seems ready to make the jump as an elite player as he’s off to a torrid start with 24.9 points per game, 7.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists while shooting 47.9%. Check out the interview above where he discusses the new season and his desire to help get the Pacers over the top. The additions of Luis Scola and CJ Watson have helped the bench scoring and soon Danny Granger will be back as well. It will be interesting to see how he fits in from a chemistry point of view, but finding minutes for him is a good problem to have.

Of course it’s very early. Miami seems to start slow every year and then they turn it on, but Indiana might make it hard for them to catch up. The Pacers seem focused on getting home court advantage, and desire is an important factor in the long NBA season.

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NBA reviewing actions of Kobe, Fisher, Artest and Alston

Update: The NBA suspended Fisher and Alston one game each. Kobe wasn’t suspended — shocker!

Stu Jackson is a busy man today. He’s responsible for reviewing the tape and doling out the suspensions and fines, if necessary. Apparently, he’s looking at four different plays from last night’s action: Rafer Alston’s slap to the back of Eddie House’s head, Derek Fisher’s premeditated shoulder block on Luis Scola, Kobe Bryant’s flying elbow to the neck/chest of Ron Artest, and Artest’s subsequent confrontation with Kobe when he was (somehow) called for the foul.

From the replay, it looked to me that Alston was responding to an elbow from House as House celebrated his made shot. House is a pretty annoying player — in fact, my buddy LaRusso pretty much despises him — and the little elbow to the gut was like salt in Alston’s wounds. Technically, he didn’t throw a punch, which is why there’s a question about whether or not he’ll be suspended, but you can’t go around slapping people in the head. If they do suspend him, I hope they fine House for instigating the event with the elbow. It was bush league.

I wrote about the Rockets/Lakers “chippiness” last night, and my feelings haven’t changed much. I think Fisher should be suspended for a game due to the premeditated nature of the hit he laid on Scola. Jackson should also take a hard look at Kobe’s elbow because it looked intentional and up in the neck area. As for Artest, I don’t think he should have been ejected as he didn’t throw any elbows or punches, and the decision to eject him probably cost the Rockets any chance they had at winning the game. Between the foul call on Artest and his ejection, it wasn’t the best moment for that officiating crew.

One thing is for sure — the Rockets and Lakers are already sick of each other, and we’re still very early in the series. If this thing goes six or seven games, expect a lot more of this kind of action.

Artest ejected, Lakers win

This game was a lot closer than the final score (111-98) would indicate.

With about seven minutes to play in the fourth quarter and the Lakers up 10, Kobe and Artest were fighting for position under the basket and Kobe caught Artest in the throat with an elbow. (It looked intentional to me.) Amazingly, Artest was called for a foul, and when the ref wouldn’t listen to him, he went over and confronted Kobe about it. Artest protested too long for Joey Crawford, who tossed him. Not a smart play by Artest to keep pressing the point, but he deserved a technical, not an ejection. He needs to keep his composure in that situation, but really, does anyone actually expect him to?

Late in the third quarter, Derek Fisher threw a shoulder into Luis Scola, who was approaching him to set a pick. While Doug Collins was marveling about Fisher’s “toughness,” I was thinking about how dumb of a play it was. It was clear that he was seeking Scola out and dead set on laying a hit on him. In the age of replay, when officials can make a judgment based on the video, it’s not worth getting that shot in, even if you’re trying to make a statement. The Lakers subs have struggled of late — what if his team needed him in the fourth quarter? Hell, he deserves to be suspended.

The whole thing with Scola started earlier in the game, but I’m not sure when. Before Fisher’s shoulder block, Lamar Odom was jawing at Scola after he blocked the Argentine’s shot. On a later play, Scola fouled Odom on the way to the hoop and the two exchanged words. Then Luke Walton came over to talk to Scola. Then Sasha Vujacic came over. Fisher’s “flagrant 2” was on the ensuing play.

The other thing I want to mention is the play of Kobe Bryant. He shot the ball well, hitting 16 of 27 shots en route to a 40-point game. But what bothers me is that all season we keep hearing about how important another title is to him, yet there he is jawing at Shane Battier after every bucket and saying, “he can’t guard me!” This is a team game, but once again, Kobe makes it about Kobe. Why can’t he let his brilliant play speak for itself? The important thing is that the Lakers tied the series, not that he can score at will on Battier.

Looking ahead, the Lakers were effective in limiting Yao Ming (12 points) because they fronted him in the post. In that situation, the Rockets’ immediate read should be to turn the ball to the other side of the court. Yao seals his man (who is in front of him) and there should be an easy entry pass into the post. Tonight, Houston played into the Lakers’ hands by keeping the ball on the same side of the court and Yao didn’t have a chance to have a big impact on the game.

No Love?

The rosters for the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge have been announced and there are a few surprises.

The rookie roster consists of Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, O.J. Mayo, Eric Gordon, Rudy Fernandez, Michael Beasley, Brook Lopez, Greg Oden and Marc Gasol.

The sophomore roster includes Rodney Stuckey, Aaron Brooks, Kevin Durant, Wilson Chandler, Jeff Green, Al Thornton, Luis Scola, Al Horford and Thaddeus Young.

Kevin Love isn’t on the nine-man roster for the Rookie Challenge, and it’s a big, glaring snub. ESPN’s John Hollinger agrees.

For starters, the decision to select Eric Gordon ahead of Kevin Love for the rookies was completely inexcusable.

Don’t get me wrong; Gordon is going to have a fine career, it seems, and in almost any other year he’d be a shoo-in for the team. But he made this squad mainly because the forlorn Clippers have no choice but to play him extensive minutes.

As good as he’s looked, Gordon is the only rookie team member with a Player Efficiency Rating below the league average, while Love has a better PER than every player on the rookie team except Greg Oden. Love leads the league in offensive rebound rate, as I mentioned the other day, but his prodigious work on the boards has gone largely unnoticed because he plays only 23.2 minutes a game, far less than Gordon’s 32.2.

Love’s absence is especially surprising considering how the rookie roster is loaded with four guards (Rose, Westbrook, Mayo, Gordon), one G/F (Fernandez) and only one true forward (Beasley). You’d think that if it were a tossup between Gordon and Love (which it isn’t) that they’d at least want to get another true forward on the roster to balance things out.

Hollinger goes on to rail against the sophomore roster snubs, which included Wilson Chandler over Jamario Moon, Al Thornton over Carl Landry and the worst of all (he says) — Aaron Brooks over Ramon Sessions.

Interestingly, seven of the top 11 picks of the 2007 draft — Mike Conley, Yi Jianlian, Corey Brewer, Brandan Wright, Joakim Noah, Spencer Hawes and Acie Law — did NOT make the sophomore roster. (I counted Greg Oden amongst the four since he made the rookie roster.) Conversely, six of the top 11 picks in the 2008 draft did make the rookie team.

NBA’s early season PER surprises

John Hollinger’s Player Efficiency Rating (PER) is a nifty way to compare players with vastly different minutes played. For an explanation, check out this article. A score of 15.0 is average.

Here are a few surprise players that are filling the box score early in the season. All players are seeing at least 20 minutes of playing time per game.


#8 Nate Robinson (21.33)

15.0 ppg, 4.3 apg, 3.9 apg, 2.8 spg
Thus far, Robinson is flourishing off the bench in Mike D’Antoni’s high-octane offense. He’s knocking down shots and is sharing the ball well.

#11 Ramon Sessions (19.36)
17.2 ppg, 6.2 apg, 3.6 rpg, 1.4 spg
The 22 year-old Sessions is proving that his late-season run last year was no fluke. His fine play is making the Bucks’ decision to trade Mo Williams a lot clearer. It looks like he’s the point guard of the future in Milwaukee.


#4 Nick Young (23.33)
16.6 ppg, 2.0 apg, 2.0 rpg, 55.4% FG%
Yes, his line is thin (i.e. he doesn’t do much but score), but boy can he put the ball in the hoop. The Wizards are struggling, but Young is providing points off the bench.

#7 Rudy Fernandez (21.31)
13.7 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 1.8 apg, 42.4% 3PT%
Usually, it takes rookies a little while to adjust to the NBA three-point distance, but Fernandez isn’t having a problem. He’s in the running for Rookie of the Year.

#8 Roger Mason (20.96)
16.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.4 apg, 52.7% FG%, 56.0% 3PT
Mason is doing his best Manu Ginobili impersonation. It looks like the fifth-year player is starting to break out, and once Ginobili returns, he’ll give the Spurs a much-needed fourth scoring option.


#2 Trevor Ariza (24.09)
9.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.0 spg, 60.0% 3PT
Ariza has been remarkably productive in limited minutes. He should be starting, but he needs to show that he has a consistent jump shot before Phil Jackson can use him to space the court for Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. For now, he’s bringing great energy off the bench.

#9 Thaddeus Young (18.12)
16.5 ppg, 4.3 apg, 51.9% FG%, 47.8% 3PT
After a stellar yet underrated rookie season, Young is making the most of the extra 10 minutes of playing time. He has shown great improvement from long range and from the free throw line (74% last season, 89% this season).


#7 Luis Scola (21.87)
13.0 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 56.7 FG%
He did much of his damage last season with Yao Ming sidelined, so it’s impressive that he’s been able to increase his rebound rate.

#13 Jason Thompson (19.71)
11.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 59.6 FG%
He’s not starting, but if he keeps this up, the Kings won’t bring the rookie off the bench for long.


#7 Nene (21.29)
16.2 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 1.7 bpg, 66.7% FG%
What is it with Brazilians and their one-word names? Nene is doing his best to make up for the loss of Marcus Camby. We all know that Nene is talented, but he just hasn’t been able to stay healthy. Maybe this is his year.

#8 Josh Boone (18.60)
9.0 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 1.4 bpg, 55.3% FG%
It’s Boone – not lottery pick Brook Lopez – that’s starting at center for the Nets. The team needs to rebound and he’s getting it done.

#10 Spencer Hawes (17.67)
12.9 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 2.0 bpg
Hawes filled in admirably for Brad Miller, and it looks like he’s going to be a solid NBA center.

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