The most fun-to-watch team in the NBA is ...
The Indiana Pacers?
This is somewhat random and probably exclusive to my twisted NBA brain, but I always think about the Indiana Pacers on Thanksgiving.
There is indeed a legitimate backstory.
The NBA doesn’t want to compete with the NFL on Thanksgiving and last scheduled games on the holiday in 2010 when there were two: Washington at Atlanta and Sacramento at the LA Clippers. But my go-to Thanksgiving memory in #thisleague dates to November 2002 from my first full-time season with ESPN.com and involves the Pacers.
The job compelled me to move from Dallas to Central Connecticut right before the 2002-03 season and the Mavericks promptly uncorked the best start in franchise history at 14-0 as soon as I left. They didn't lose that season until a Thanksgiving Day defeat at Indiana that left Dallas one win shy of matching the NBA’s best start ever at 15-0 recorded by the 1948-49 Washington Capitols and the 1993-94 Houston Rockets.
More than two decades later, with Rick Carlisle back in Indy for his second stint as Pacers coach, this freewheeling team — thanks primarily to the floor leadership of Tyrese Haliburton and a roster of speedsters around him — might just be the NBA's most fun to watch.
The latest exhibit was Tuesday night's 157-152 track meet with the Hawks that locked in the Pacers as the first of eight teams to reach the knockout round of the NBA's inaugural In-Season Tournament.
I realize this isn’t a universal viewpoint, but I love high-scoring NBA games and will never apologize for it.
And it certainly caught my eye that such a defense-first, uber-intense legend like Kevin Garnett also seems to greatly enjoy watching the Pacers’ conductor who is routinely eliciting Steve Nash comparisons these days. Check out this unexpected tweet from the Hall of Fame forward-turned-Showtime commentator:
Earlier Tuesday, not long before KG's tweet, we asserted in a column right here on #thisSubstack that Haliburton was thrusting himself into this season's MVP conversation with his elite play as orchestrator of Indiana's league-leading offense (122.7 points per 100 possessions). How good is Haliburton? The leap he has taken is such that the Kings — even with Domantas Sabonis averaging 20.2 points, 12.4 rebounds, 7.1 assists and shooting a ridiculous 64.1% — still get asked if they will come to regret trading Haliburton away to get Sabonis just a season and a half into his NBA career.
It's far too early, of course, to know if Indiana can make a real run at the 50-ish wins it'll likely need to keep Haliburton in the MVP chase. Especially given that the Pacers’ defensive frailties juice the offense of any team they play. They can’t stop anyone.
Yet they've undeniably been an entertaining watch so far. As of Friday morning, Indiana was averaging nearly 105 possessions per 48 minutes to lead the league in pace.
On Wednesday night, after combining with Atlanta to generate 309 points in regulation, Indiana lost with some flair at home, 132-131, to offensively challenged Toronto (highlights below).
More fun with Pacers numbers: Before we even reached December, Indiana became just the seventh team in league history to have scored 150-plus points in a game multiple times in the same season while also surrendering 150 points or more in the same game multiple times in the same season.
Only six previous teams in league history have done so:
🏀 Denver, not surprisingly, in both 1983-84 under Doug Moe and again when Paul Westhead coached the Nuggets in 1990-91.
🏀 San Antonio in 1983-84.
🏀 The San Diego Rockets and Oscar Robertson's Cincinnati Royals in 1969-70.
🏀 The Philadelphia Warriors in 1961-62.
Of those six previous teams that proved so uniquely prolific and porous, only the two Denver teams both scored and allowed at least 150 points on three separate occasions.
The 8-6 Pacers have plenty of time — 68 games to be precise — to do it even more frequently.
PS — Please allow me to laud Mavericks television play-by-play voice Mark Followill for the assist on this find: Pacers 157, Hawks 152 was the 11th highest-scoring regulation game in NBA history ... but only the second game on that list since 1990. Houston scored a 159-158 victory over Washington on Oct. 30, 2019.
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