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Pacers Show New Wrinkle With Evan Turner At Point Guard

It didn’t take long for the Indiana Pacers to add a wrinkle to their offense with Evan Turner now in the fold.

With George Hill (shoulder) sidelined this weekend, Frank Vogel used Turner at point guard against the Boston Celtics and Utah Jazz.

The Pacers don’t rely on Hill to run the point in a traditional way, but handing the ball to Turner on consecutive nights in close games down the stretch was certainly a gutsy call by Vogel.

“Turner gave us a big lift the whole game, but particularly down the stretch,” Vogel said after Indiana beat Boston 102-97 on Saturday night. “He handled some point guard duties, which he hadn’t done for us yet. We hadn’t talked about it yet. He stepped up.”

Turner hadn’t logged a minute at point guard for the Philadelphia 76ers this season, but Vogel noted that Turner had experience handling the ball at Ohio State.

“Evan is as versatile as it comes,” Paul George said. “He filled right in and did a great job of playing point guard.”

Turner had 17 points, three rebounds and two assists without a turnover on 8-for-14 shooting against the Celtics. With the Pacers struggling to pull away, Vogel let Turner bring up the ball in the fourth quarter. He was on the floor for the full 12 minutes and was the de facto point guard for close to eight minutes.

“At that time it would have been the normal spot to take him back out, but he was the hottest guy out there,” Vogel said of when he slid Turner over to the point. “We know he has great versatility, as do Lance [Stephenson] and Paul. Any of those three guys can handle, so that’s a lineup we knew we’d use at some point.”

Turner scored ten points on 5-for-8 shooting in the final frame.

“I felt fine. Coach was pretty much telling me to run along on certain things,” Turner said when asked if he was comfortable in the role.

“David West was setting screens. He’s great coaching himself. I think I got to look at the film a little bit and see what I can do when things break down, but other than that it’s just coming down and playing basketball.”

C.J. Watson started in place of Hill in both games, but it was Turner that handled the ball in the final moments. In a narrow 94-91 win over the Jazz, Turner played most of his fourth-quarter minutes (6:04) without Watson on the floor. He had four points and two rebounds without a turnover.

After the Boston game I asked Vogel whether the bigger lineup had a future when Hill is healthy.

“Probably not, but I could see us at certain times, if Evan has it going. Sometimes if a guy is hot you’ve got to keep him out there,” Vogel said. “But I don’t see us having a steady diet of playing him over George [Hill].”

Paul George, who has played alongside Hill for the last three seasons, says Turner works as the ball handler because he isn’t asked to do a lot. He’s been with the team for less than two weeks and hasn’t mastered the entire playbook.

“We weren’t doing anything out of the ordinary,” George said in-between the wins. “We ran pick-and-roll plays and Evan is a great creator and decision-maker at the ball-handing position. Whether he’s on the wing or at point guard, he’s comfortable there and we’re comfortable with him there. I think it was a great coaching change.”

Turner performed well in the new role with his new team, but admitted Saturday night that he was shocked by Vogel’s decision.

“I thought Paul was coming in for me,” he said. “He put up [one finger] and I was like OK, I’ll take a one-minute break. And then he was like ‘No, you’re running the one.’ I was like OK, cool. I guess, ‘Good job coach, there will be a little something extra in your mailbox.’”

The Eastern Conference At The Deadline

Thursday at the NBA trade deadline, we saw a total of 26 players, seven second round draft picks, and zero blockbuster trades. On Friday, we covered how the 10 players that ended up on West teams will shape the playoff race, and now we are looking at the 16 that were sent to the D-League…whoops, I meant the Eastern Conference.

While the Western teams made a few smart, calculated trades to improve depth (Steve Blake to the Warriors) and cut costs (possible buyout for Jason Terry from the Kings), the East had the biggest deals of the deadline. The East deals included the only two All-Stars dealt (Antawn Jamison and Danny Granger), the two best players (Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes), and the smartest player (Professor Andre Miller, PhD).

The Brooklyn Nets traded their disappointing – but playoff tested – guard, Jason Terry, for the Sacramento Kings' disappointing – and never played in a playoff game – guard, Marcus Thorton. Thorton, who once averaged 21.3 points per game, is a solid sixth man and capable of scoring in bunches when needed though he has struggled badly this season. He will likely provide relief for Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson down the stretch of the season. However, adding his extra $730,000 in salary means paying a ridiculous $3.3 million in tax, bringing their total to over $88 million on taxes alone…for a team that won’t get out of the first round.

The Cleveland Cavaliers traded for 76ers' center, Spencer Hawes. He will likely anchor their team right to where they were destined to be before they traded for him…the lottery. Hawes is a talented 7-footer who leads all centers in three-pointers made and percentage, is an elite passer for his position, a good scorer and rebounder, and a capable body on defense when he cares. Forced to play on a hapless Philadelphia team, Hawes had no reason to try over the past few months, but as he heads into free agency this offseason, expect his production to go back up for the Cavs. Despite the addition of Hawes and recently acquired Luol Deng, this team is unfortunately still coached by Mike Brown, suggesting they are likely doomed to miss the playoffs and then ultimately lose Hawes and Deng to free agency for nothing.

Professor Andre Miller, PhD left his classroom for winter break on December 30th and has been M.I.A. ever since. However, after being traded to the Washington Wizards, you can rest assured Professor Miller will be making a teaching once again. Miller, who was restless under indecisive rookie head coach Brian Shaw will be a capable backup behind John Wall, likely helping lead this Wizards team to homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

The Charlotte Bobcats made a good deal at the trade deadline. Say it with me: “The Bobcats did something right.” They traded valuable but redundant point guard, Ramon Sessions to the Milwaukee Bucks along with Jeff Adrian for Luke Ridnour and Gary Neal. Ridnour is a terrific backup point guard who can play behind or with Kemba Walker, while Neal is an outstanding shooter who won an NBA Finals game last season by scoring 24 points in 25 minutes!

In the only move that might affect the NBA Finals this season, the Pacers trading former All-Star forward, Danny Granger to the 76ers for Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen. Turner is a do-it-all forward who has fallen out of favor league-wide because he has failed to live up to the hype of a second overall pick. Turner should play with the first unit as well as anchor the second for the Pacers. His ball handling will allow George Hill, Paul George and CJ Watson to get free and take uncontested shots while giving them insurance –albeit expensive at an $8.7 million qualifying offer or whatever long-term offer he receives – in case Lance Stephenson leaves in free agency. Additionally, Allen started in the playoffs only two seasons ago and is a capable big man off the bench. Most importantly, Larry “The Legend” Bird signed off on this trade, thus, it must be great.

The last set of trades involved the Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers and the Atlanta Hawks. Each team gave up players that weren’t part of their future and received cash, second round draft picks, and laundry service for a year in exchange for helping another team out. The Heat traded Roger Mason Jr. and cash for a pick they will likely never see in order to open a roster spot for Caron Butler (Tuff Juice wants to go home!). The 76ers, who were involved in a league-high four deals during the trade deadline ended up with five second round draft picks and five players that won’t be buying property in Philadelphia. Finally, the Hawks acquired Antawn Jamison from the Clippers and enough cash to take him out to a nice dinner before buying out his contract.

Compared to the four West teams that made a deadline deal, eight of the top ten Eastern franchises made a deal with only Chicago and Detroit remaining inactive. Whether this reflects the fragility of the Eastern Conference standings (5th place through 11th is separated by just 5.5 games), or the strength of the mighty teams in the West (3rd place in the East would be 10th in the West) is anyone’s guess. With that said, all these moves outside of Indiana and Miami are moot because none of them are making the Eastern Conference Finals.

Indiana Pacers Vs. Miami Heat, Round III starts May 20th – Get ready, America!

On Danny Granger's Return

In what could turn out to be an embarrassment of riches, the Indiana Pacers welcomed back Danny Granger on Friday night against the Houston Rockets.

Granger, who averaged more than 20 points per game in three consecutive seasons (2008-11), missed the first 25 games of this season with a left calf injury. The Pacers were just fine in his absence. They went 20-5 and allowed the 30-year-old to make sure the muscle strain was fully healed.

Indiana had a lot of practice playing without Granger, who in the past almost singlehandedly dictated whether they won or lost. He played in just five games last season because of a left knee injury that eventually required surgery in the spring.

Frank Vogel planned to give Granger 15-20 minutes in the early stages of his return, but blowout wins over the Rockets and Boston Celtics (Sunday) allowed Granger to see a little more action without ramifications in the win-loss column.

Even though there weren’t any tense possessions played this weekend, Granger was very much thrown into the fire against Houston. The Rockets rank sixth in the NBA in pace and Vogel decided the Pacers were going to get out and run with Dwight Howard and Co. That’s easier said than done when you haven’t played in a game in more than nine months and you’re coming off an injury that easily could be aggravated by running too hard or too much.

In 22 minutes, Granger went 1-for-7 with five points, five turnovers, two rebounds and two assists against Houston. He made one of his four three-point attempts and sank both his foul shots.

Granger wasted no time adding to the excitement at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Less than a minute after he checked in, he blocked Howard from behind on a four-foot attempt. During his first stretch of play -- he was in for the final 4:05 of the first quarter -- he also tipped a pass and clearly wasn’t looking for his shot. His lone attempt was long.

Vogel kept Granger in for the first 5:40 of the second quarter and he played alongside C.J. Watson, Lance Stephenson, Luis Scola and Ian Mahinmi. He played with Watson, Paul George, Scola and Roy Hibbert in the first period.

Francisco Garcia got by Granger on the defensive end during this stretch and he had several miscommunications with his teammates on the offensive end. On one possession he was long on a three and then short-rimmed another attempt following an offensive rebound.

Vogel followed a similar substitution pattern in the second half. Granger replaced Stephenson with 2:47 left in the third and he remained on the floor until there was just 2:28 left in the game. He logged a whole 82 seconds with Indiana’s four other starters.

Granger made his first (and only) field goal at the 9:48 mark of the fourth when he hit a three-pointer to give the Pacers a 92-67 lead. Aside from that, he looked as you might expect in his final 12 minutes. He stepped out of bounds and had the ball taken from him by both James Harden and Omri Casspi.

The hometown fans serenaded Granger with a “Dan-ny” chant when Vogel removed him from the game. Afterward, the career-long Pacer expressed appreciation for the support.

Granger logged 25 minutes against the Celtics and his shot looked like it was in midseason form. He went 4-for-5 from three as he contributed 12 points and five rebounds. He missed all three of his two-point attempts and was second to only Stephenson, who had a triple-double, on the team in plus/minus (+17).

He entered the game a tad earlier this time, joining Hill, George and Hibbert on the floor along with Scola at the 4:58 mark of the first period. In five minutes he grabbed two rebounds, was bullied by Gerald Wallace in the paint and blended nicely into the offense without attempting a shot. In the second quarter Vogel sent out a lineup of Watson-Stephenson-Granger-Scola-Mahinmi. West replaced Scola for the final two-plus minutes of Granger’s run in the quarter. He front-rimmed a 21-footer on his first field goal attempt, but then rebounded with consecutive three-point makes.

The earliest dimension he added to Vogel’s offense was on the break, whether a traditional fast break or one created by Stephenson, as another option on the wing for a kick-out three.

His first action of the second half came at the 3:54 mark when he replaced Stephenson to log a few minutes with the starters once again. Vogel then slowly trickled the rest of the second unit out onto the floor, with the exception of Stephenson, who chased a triple-double in the fourth.

Granger stayed in until there was just 3:45 left in the game, which was in hand for the second time in three nights. He added two more threes and another pair of rebounds, but did show some rust at times. One example came when MarShon Brooks rejected him on a layup attempt in the fourth.

The sample size is small, even for a guy that played in just five games and scored just 27 points in 2012-13, but a rusty Danny Granger may have already made the Pacers a better team. They scored more than 100 points in back-to-back games for just the second time all season and the bench has quickly become more dangerous.

Rumors about Granger’s future with the Pacers have been swirling for nearly a year -- ever since George emerged as a star and Stephenson as a competent starter. Larry Bird insists that he isn’t looking to trade him and Granger has said all the right things when it comes to staying in Indiana.

The Pacers aren’t going to lap everyone they face with Granger back in the fold, but each win should increase his chances of at least finishing out his contract (which expires this coming summer) in blue and gold.

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