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Pacers star Paul George: I'm better than ever

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Pacers star Paul George: I'm better than ever

Paul George isn't just back. The Indiana Pacers star is better than ever.

"I think I am. I feel great out there," George said.

While his claim seems impossible -- we all remember THAT leg injury -- nobody is going to argue with the five-year veteran. Certainly not the Wizards, not after what George did to them Tuesday night in Indiana's 123-106 win.

The sleek forward scored 40 points. That's an impressive number and just three off his career-high. However, George's shooting in his first game at Verizon Center since the 2014 playoffs was otherworldly.

He sank 7 of 8 3-pointers and 14 of 19 shots overall. George filled up the basket and the stat sheet, finishing with eight rebounds, four assists and two steals.  Defensively he took on 3's and 4's and even two-guard Bradley Beal.

The season is early, but George's averages of 25.9 points, 8.4 rebounds and 4.8 assists for the 9-5 Pacers would all set new career-highs.

"He's a whole different animal," Beal said of George's current level. 

With their leader back in the lineup, the Pacers are a different team.

After reaching the Eastern Conference finals three straight years, Indiana missed the 2015 playoffs following a 38-44 regular season. George only played six games late in the campaign. He was busy recovering from the brutal leg injury suffered while playing in a scrimmage for USA Basketball. 

Recover he did, but he also improved and expanded his already impressive arsenal.

“Well honestly I just feel like I had a year to work on my game," George explained. "Most of the time, players get a good two or three months in the summer to get better. I had a full year of sitting out and just getting better, and just learning because I knew the changes we were going with.

"I was going to have to bring it. They definitely put pieces around me to succeed and it is my job to take us there.”

MORE WIZARDSWIZ FALL AS PACERS SHOOT LIGHTS OUT

The changes referenced involved Indiana's identity. Similar to the Wizards, the Pacers planned to join the NBA wave of small ball lineups with 3-point shooters galore. For Indiana, that meant two notable departures: Hulking center Roy Hibbert and power forward David West.

Indiana entered Tuesday third in 3-point shooting percentage. These Pacers start four perimeter threats, including C.J. Miles at the other forward spot. Like George, Miles couldn't miss from deep against the Wizards. He sank 8 of 9 3-pointers and finished with a career-high 32 points. The pair combined to make their first 11 3-point tries.

"It was a special night," George said of the tandem troubling the Wizards.

With George back in play, the Pacers are back to looking like a playoff team.

"He's a special player," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said of George. "We're obviously a different team when he's out there."

After starting the season with three straight losses, Indiana has won nine of 11 games including three straight by a combined 64 points.

"This team is starting to find its way," George said. "We're starting to have an idea, starting to learn each other. If we play fast and put pressure on teams, it's going to allow [our shooters] some easy opportunities."

The Wizards are well aware of what George can do with shooting opportunities. In Game 4 of the 2014 Eastern Conference semifinal series, he scored 39 points and made 7 of 10 3-pointers as Indiana rallied for a win and a 3-1 series lead.

"It's the same one I saw in the playoffs," Wizards guard John Wall said of George while noting the upgrades. "He just came out aggressive. He's not really the same Paul George attacking the basket, but he's definitely a better shooter than what he was before he had his injury."

Asked about his success in Washington, George smiled and said, "I don't know. I just love being in D.C. I've got to get the President out one game."

Perhaps that happens in the playoffs. With George back playing at an MVP level, the Pacers are headed in that direction.

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Celtics and Sixers may go relatively unchanged this offseason, as stars have gone elsewhere

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Celtics and Sixers may go relatively unchanged this offseason, as stars have gone elsewhere

The 2018 NBA offseason in just three weeks has become one of the wildest summers in the league's history between LeBron James signing with the Lakers, and all the characters that followed him, to DeMarcus Cousins surprising everyone to sign with the Golden State Warriors, to Kawhi Leonard getting traded to the Raptors.

As crazy as it all has been, two teams in the Eastern Conference stand out for so far doing very little, either by choice or circumstance. The Celtics and Sixers, the two teams most see as the favorites in the East, appear at least so far to be running it back with the same group of players.

This appears to be the Celtics' intention. After overhauling their roster last summer, they clearly see an opportunity to take a step forward as-is. Boston was one win away from the NBA Finals and will return Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving from injury. With James gone to the West, they can improve significanly just by keeping it all together.

Boston re-signed Marcus Smart and Aron Baynes. Their biggest addition this summer so far has been their first round pick, Robert Williams.

The Sixers, unlike the Celtics, didn't appear to plan on doing it this way. They wanted James and missed out. They reportedly had interest in Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, but both went elsewhere. There are no stars left to sign in free agency and the trade market may be drying up.

Philly made some minor moves like trades for Wilson Chandler and Mike Muscala. They may also have a deal for Kyle Korver in the works. They also had two first round picks in Zhaire Smith and Landry Shamet.

There's a chance the Sixers got better than people think, as many of the moves they made seem smart. But they didn't reel in a big fish and will probably come back for the 2018-19 season with a team very similar to the one that made the second round of the playoffs this spring.

The fact the Celtics and Sixers may stand pat is probably a good thing for the rest of the East. Both teams may improve naturally if they are healthier and if their young players continue to ascend. But neither made a game-changing addition, one that would solidify either as an unstoppable superteam in the conference. 

The West is overloaded with title contenders and All-NBA players. The East, meanwhile, is much more open and it may end up staying that way mainly because Boston and Philly have been quiet so far this summer.

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Wizards set introductory press conference for Dwight Howard

Wizards set introductory press conference for Dwight Howard

Wizards team president Ernie Grunfeld has stayed relatively busy this summer crafting his new-look lineup for the 2018-19 season. 

One of the team's key additions, Dwight Howard, is set to be introduced as a member of the Wizards on Monday. 

NBC Sports Washington will air the introductory press conference live at 1 p.m. while also streaming it online.  

Ernie Grunfeld and head coach Scott Brooks are both expected to be in attendance. 

The 32-year-old big man is coming off a 2017-18 season with the Charlotte Hornets in which he averaged 16.6 points and 12.5 rebounds per game. 

Since leaving the Orlando Magic after eight seasons in 2011, Howard has played for four different teams in the last six years. 

Howard is an eight-time all-star and a three-time defensive player of the year. 

 

RELATED LINKS: 

John Wall's take on Dwight Howard 

Wizards make Dwight Howard free agent signing official 

By the numbers: Is new Wizards center Dwight Howard still in his NBA prime?