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Five Takeaways from an NBA Tuesday: Pacers figuring out small ball

Paul George, Alec Burks

Paul George, Alec Burks


Tuesday night in the NBA was not exactly loaded with marquee matchups (wait until Wednesday for that), but it did have a couple unexpected outcomes and some things worth noting. In case you were designing a hypersonic jet rather than flipping around League Pass, here are five things you should take away from Tuesday in the NBA:

1) The Indiana Pacers are learning the finer points of small ball. The Pacers used their speed to swarm the perimeter defensively, generating 15 steals -- second-most by any team this season -- in a 94-84 win over the previously unbeaten Pistons. George Hill (four steals), Monta Ellis (three), Paul George (two) and C.J. Miles (two) led the swiping. Indiana (1-3) scored 30 points off turnovers, bolstering an offense that remains up and down. At least Miles and George combined to make a few 3-pointers after gaining separation from Detroit power forward Ersan Ilyasova, who was stuck covering one of the Pacers’ two quick starting forwards. —Dan Feldman

2) Andre Drummond is playing in beast mode. The Pacers will take the win, but the Pistons’ Andre Drummond was the single best player on the floor in this game — Drummond finished the night with 25 points and 29 rebounds. This isn’t some one-off, he’s played four games and had two 20/20 nights already — the last guy to have two 20/20s in the first four was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (according to ESPN’s stats). Drummond has scored 81 points and grabbed 78 rebounds in those four games – the last guy to have more than 70 and 70 after four games was Charles Barkley. He is playing like a max contract guy. —Kurt Helin

3) The Lakers’ sad defense isn’t getting better under Byron Scott. The Lakers surrendered 117 points to the Denver Nuggets in a loss Tuesday night at Staples Center, and that’s just continuing the trend that has the team 0-4. The Lakers are giving up an average of 113 points per 100 possessions this young season, ranking them dead last in the NBA. Teams are shooting 48.6 percent overall against them (second worst in the NBA) and the Lakers are last in the league at creating turnovers (11.6 percent of opponent possessions end in a turnover). Roy Hibbert isn’t a defensive savior, the Laker defense is only two points per 100 possessions better when he plays (and is still allowing 112 points per 100 with him on the court).

After Tuesday’s loss, coach Byron Scott was again bemoaning the Laker defense and saying that what the guys are learning and doing in practice is just not translating to regular games yet. Scott talks a good game about defense, he can’t stress it enough mentioning it to the team or the media.

But here’s the reality — this will be Scott’s fifth straight team to finish in the bottom 10 in defensive efficiency (all his teams in Cleveland, plus his Los Angeles squads). That’s not just about the talent on the roster — last season’s Sixers were 13th in the league in defensive efficiency; this year’s Timberwolves, Celtics, and Magic are all in the top 10 so far. Yes, I get the small sample size caveat, but this much is true — if you have a good system and can get players to buy in, you can be a decent defensive team. Scott isn’t getting that and hasn’t for a while. It’s not suddenly going to change; the Laker defense will struggle all season. —KH

4) How good is the Bulls’ defense? Through their first three games, the Bulls were allowing opponents to shoot just 39.6 percent, and it looked like they hadn’t lost their good habits from the Tom Thibodeau era. But Jimmy Butler thinks it was more luck than skill and said so after the Hornets dropped 130 in beating Chicago Tuesday.

The Bulls defense is what has carried this team through its first four games, if that has been a mirage then there is reason for concern. That said I expect the defense isn’t as bad as it looked Tuesday, and the offense will pick up. Things such as playing Nikola Mirotic more, and splitting Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah, are smart, it’s just going to take time for the players to find a groove and the team to reap the benefits. There needs to be patience, and enough defense to carry them through this part of the season. —KH

5) Tuesday was the 20th anniversary of the Raptors’ first game, and they celebrated with a win. On Nov. 3, 1995, the Toronto Raptors beat the New Jersey Nets 94-75 at the Sky Dome, opening a new era of basketball in Toronto. A lot of people south of the border don’t realize how big the Raptors’ fan base is (they were fifth in the NBA in attendance last year) and rabid they can be. Basketball in Toronto is a thing.

All those Raptor fans should be happy, their team is 4-0 and atop the Eastern Conference early after a 102-91 win in Dallas. The Raptors are defending well under new addition DeMarre Carroll and have the league’s fifth-best defense (in points allowed per possession). Meanwhile, the offense is eighth in the league behind an impressive and thinner Kyle Lowry (who dropped 27 on the Mavericks).

It’s early, but on their 20th anniversary the Raptors may have the best team the franchise has ever seen. —KH