It's time to separate the men from the boys. It's time to see what this team is really made of. It's time to head out West.
The Pacers are headed for Los Angeles for their afternoon game against Blake Griffin and the high-flying Clippers on Monday. After that, they will face the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday before finishing up the road trip with a game in Portland on Saturday night, then at Denver on Sunday night.
First, let's look at the first game against the Clippers. Yes, the Pacers already have one victory in L.A. this year, yet it was against the defending champs, not the redheaded stepchildren of the Lakers. This team is very dangerous though, and it showed in their victory over the Heat earlier this week. They have stars that are capable of making plays on both ends of the floor.
Obviously, the Blake Griffin show will be on display, and he will be nearly impossible to stop. I'm sure O'Brien will try all sorts of things to stop him, probably starting with Hansbrough, then McRoberts, and who knows who else will get a shot at it. No matter what, he is a double-double machine and he will get his.
They also have a very experienced PG in Baron Davis. He will be able to back Collison down in the post whenever he wants, and if they help on that, they have shooters that are capable of hitting shots all night long, especially Eric Gordon. Gordon has really come a long way since his days at IU, and he is a scoring threat on any given night. DeAndre Jordan is another athletic big guy that will surely give Hibbert some problems with his quickness.
Which player needs to step up the most if the Pacers want to make their push for the playoffs?
After that, the Pacers will face another great test in the Warriors. Golden State has one of the most dynamic offenses in the league, and the Pacers are currently 23rd in scoring offense this season. Guys are going to have to hit shots all night long if they want to stay in this one. They are going to need around 115 points to win, and I find that hard to come by with O'Brien's offense.
Steph Curry and Monta Ellis are two of the most explosive scorers in the NBA, and David Lee will give them plenty of problems as well. Tipoff is set for 10:30pm Indiana time, so luckily not many people will have to see this one.
The third game is against another team with real talent at the PF position. LaMarcus Aldridge is one of the most underrated players in the entire league in my opinion. He is averaging 21 points and nine rebounds per game this season. The absence of Brandon Roy and Greg Oden will help, but Wesley Mathews is playing very well, and they still have a lot of weapons.
The final game that takes place in Denver will not be a replay of the sixth game of the season back in November. The Pacers won that game handily 144-113. That is the game where they were just a few seconds from a perfect shooting quarter. No way this Nuggets team lets that happen again. They are getting healthy, and Carmelo is starting to heat up. It would be nice for Indiana if Carmelo is traded by this time, but I don't think that will happen.
Though these four Western Conference teams are not the Lakers, Spurs, Thunder or Jazz, they are still much better teams than Indiana. The Pacers will have to fight each night to steal one or two of these games. I think if they can split the road trip (2-2) it could be considered a success.
Hopefully the Pacers can snap out of this funk they have been in recently, and look more like the team we saw in November, not December. Hibbert is going to have to stay out of foul trouble so he can actually play more than 10 minutes. Collison is going to have to play solid defense and hit the open guys on offense. He needs to attack the rim and open things up. Paul George and both Rush and Dunleavy are going to have to be prepared to come in off the bench and give them some instant offense.
The real problem though seems to be the funk that Granger is in. He is having the worst statistical shooting percentage of his entire career. The Pacers are 3-15 this season when Granger doesn't shoot at least 40 percent from the field. He has been putting up some really bad shots and just settling for tough jumpers. He needs to drive more and get himself to the free-throw line. Once he starts getting to the rim, the defenders will play off of him a little bit more, and he will get better quality shots.
When the Pacers finally do return home next week after the game in Denver, they welcome the Magic back to Conseco Fieldhouse, so they need to get a couple of wins on this road trip because it's not going to be easy when they come back home.
While they are an even 10-10 at home, they are just 6-11 on the road. It's time to see if this team will respond to all of the critics and just focus on each game at a time.