20130429-135523.jpgThey ventured West for a five-game quest with a robust record and soaring confidence but one nagging question: How would the Pacers fare against elite teams?

The answer: pretty well, all things considered.

Despite a jelly-legged performance in losing 118-94 to Oklahoma City Sunday night, the Pacers won three of five games, snapped a couple of long losing streaks and returned home with the league’s best record (18-3) heading into yet another showdown game Tuesday against Miami.

“We played the top four Western teams, and we played a tough team at their house, a team that’s always tough to win at in Utah,” said Paul George. “To walk away 3-2, this game (in Oklahoma City) got away from us. We almost had a winnable game in Portland. I’d say we did well.

“We did well this trip. A lot of stuff to take away and things we can nit-pick and take from the teams that we lost to and the teams we played this trip.”

  • The Pacers opened with a 105-100 victory over the Clippers last Sunday night as their frontcourt of George, David West and Roy Hibbert combined for 70 points and 26 rebounds.
  • Despite a Reggie-esque performance from George in Portland – a career-high 43 points including the Pacers’ final 15 points of the game, all on 3-pointers – they fell 106-102 to the Trail Blazers in a matchup of the teams with the league’s two best records.
  • The Pacers then snapped a six-game losing streak in Utah with a 95-86 victory despite 7-for-20 shooting from George. This was a rare outing in which the second unit made the difference, outscoring Utah’s reserves 28-15.
  • Despite travel problems between Salt Lake City and San Antonio, the Pacers played their best game of the season in beating the Spurs, 111-100, snapping an 11-game losing streak in the Alamo City in the process. George and West combined for 48 points and 18-for-26 shooting as the Pacers led by as many as 26 before a late flurry from the Spurs’ reserves. Bad weather in San Antonio forced the Pacers to fly into Houston, where they had to wait several hours for buses to arrive to finish the trip. One of the buses broke down on the way, but fortunately the team had a day off to catch up on rest.
  • There was no such luck in for the Oklahoma City game, in which the Pacers trailed wire to wire by as many as 29.

“We had a good trip, but it would have been a great trip if we would have won (in Oklahoma City,” said coach Frank Vogel. “Every single game this year could matter to home court advantage, there’s no feeling good about what we have accomplished so far. We have to keep pushing forward.”

What did we learn about the Pacers in the process?

Paul George averaged 29.8 points on the trip, including a career-high 43 in Portland. (Photo: Icon SMI)

Paul George averaged 29.8 points on the trip, including a career-high 43 in Portland. (Photo: Icon SMI)

>> George rose to the challenge, averaging 29.8 points and shooting 49 percent overall and 46.5 percent from the 3-point line on the trip. Hibbert (14.4 points, 10.0 rebounds) and West (15.4 points, 7.0 rebounds) also fared well.

>> Guards George Hill and Lance Stephenson both struggled with their shooting and combined to average 18 points per game.

>> For the first time this season, it became apparent the Pacers do indeed miss Danny Granger, or at least the idea of having one more veteran 3-point shooter in the mix. He was able to practice late in the week and indications are positive but no word on a timeline for his return.

>> The defense did not hold up well at all. The Pacers had allowed 85.1 points on .387 shooting prior to the trip, but yielded 102.0 and .475 on average. Four of the five opponents reached 100 points something that happened just once in the first 16 games. Granted, the tempo was quicker and the offense more prolific, but the defense was particularly vulnerable to penetration and high pick-and-rolls, and Hibbert struggled to recover in time to protect the rim, blocking a total of five shots on the trip.

>> On a trip like this, the need for second-unit production was acute but the Pacers were largely disappointed. Beyond Luis Scola, the reserves combined to shoot 35 percent overall, 29.4 percent on 3-pointers and were outscored by 45 points. The backup wing spots are particularly problematic as neither Orlando Johnson nor Solomon Hill has stepped forward.

>> All three of the Pacers’ losses this season have come on the second night of back-to-backs, and they’ve allowed an average of 111.3 points, another indicator of vulnerability to fatigue by the starters. All five are averaging at least 30 minutes, and averaged at least 32 on the trip.

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