It’s no secret the Indiana Pacers were going to have difficulty at times shooting the basketball this NBA season with so many key players sidelined by injuries.
But some nights, it was dreadful to watch. The Pacers shot below 40 percent in 11 of their first 27 games.
Especially recently, there were winnable games that came up short at the end. If only one or two more shots would fall. Or someone, anyone, could get hot, the Pacers wouldn’t be 10-19 right now.
They hit rock bottom in a 76-73 loss at Denver on Saturday. The Pacers shot a season-low 31 percent, which explains how another one got away in the lowest scoring output of the season.
Coach Frank Vogel’s team had not yet shot 50 percent when it finally hit the magic number the next night (42-of-84) in a 100-96 road win at Minnesota. One player in particular got hot as reserve C.J. Miles scored 28 points on 10-of-18 shooting with four 3-pointers.
The Pacers entered Tuesday night’s home game against New Orleans ranked 29th in points per game (93.6), 28th in field goal percentage (.423) and 27th in 3-point percentage (.326). But they shot 50 percent on the nose yet again (39-of-78) in a 96-84 victory.
And this time, it was balanced. Six Pacers scored in double digits. Five of them hit half of their shots or better. And reserve Lavoy Allen scored on four-of-five attempts.
Vogel has preached enhanced ball and player movement this season and likes how his team has played, although they haven’t always finished with baskets.
“The shots haven’t always fallen, we haven’t always had great performances, but when you try to play the right way and you get it moving the right way, I think that’s going to come,” he said.
When the game was still very much in doubt, the Pacers hit 11-of-19 shots (57.9 percent) in the third quarter to expand a four-point halftime lead to 70-61. They cooled off a little but still finished with enough baskets (8-of-18, 44.4 percent) to secure the win.
“I like the way we’re playing offensively and I don’t feel like we’re one of the bottom offensive teams in the league with the way we’re playing,” Vogel said. “I think as we get guys healthy and we get our team at full strength, I think we’re going to see a better offensive performance with the way we’re moving the basketball.”
It helps to have point guard George Hill back in the lineup after missing the first 28 regular-season games. The plan is for him to be an aggressive scorer this season, considering two-time All-Star Paul George’s expected season-long absence with a broken leg. Hill made 5-of-8 shots including 2-of-3 3-pointers in his season debut.
Through 29 games, Allen has the highest shooting percentage (.529) of the regulars playing consistent minutes. Forward David West, who missed 15 games with an ankle injury, is shooting 47.4 percent. Reserver forward Luis Scola checks in at 46.5 percent. Everybody else checks in at 44 percent and below.
The Pacers finally have some momentum to build upon as they head to Detroit (5-23) Friday night and Brooklyn (12-15) on Saturday night. Then they’re home twice against Chicago (19-9) and Miami (13-16) before embarking on a four-game road swing to start the new year at Milwaukee (14-15), the Los Angeles Lakers (9-19), Utah (9-20) and Golden State (23-4).
There should be winnable games in that stretch, providing the Pacers can keep shooting the way they have the last two nights.
“Yeah, I’ll settle for 50 (percent shooting),” Vogel said, smiling, “if we can get 50 every night.”
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.