Pacers have new life with Paul George playing familiar role
Paul George needed a few games to get into a groove while adjusting to playing big minutes again after missing most of last season.
The Indiana Pacers couldn’t be happier to have him back.
Indiana seeks its sixth victory in seven tries Friday night against a Minnesota Timberwolves team looking to avoid a third consecutive defeat.
George came off the bench in the final six games of 2014-15 following his recovery from a gruesome leg injury suffered in an exhibition contest playing for USA Basketball. He averaged 16.8 points while shooting just 33.3 percent in his first four this season, with the Pacers (5-4) dropping the first three.
The last five have been a different story, though, with George averaging 29.4 points and shooting 47.6 percent, including 44.1 percent from 3-point range. He also has four double-doubles in that stretch after finishing with 26 points and 10 rebounds in Wednesday’s 102-91 win at Boston.
Although his offensive contributions stick out, George has continued to work hard on the other end of the floor as well. He’s helped the Pacers rank fourth by allowing 95.3 points per game.
"He’s been fantastic. What nobody’s talking about is his defense," coach Frank Vogel said. "He’s putting up some big numbers offensively, but every time we put him up on a top guy, that guy just gets cooled down very quickly. That’s why he’s one of the best two-way players in the NBA. He’s showing that he’s back."
Myles Turner won’t be back for some time, however. Turner, the 11th pick in this year’s draft, suffered a chip fracture in his left thumb after playing just over one minute against the Celtics and is expected to miss at least four weeks.
The Timberwolves (4-4) have some injury concerns of their own. Ricky Rubio has missed the last two with a strained left hamstring, a minor injury interim coach Sam Mitchell attributes to Rubio getting back into better shape after missing 60 games last season with ankle problems.
Andrew Wiggins missed Tuesday’s loss to Charlotte with a sore right knee, but he returned Thursday and scored 19 points in nearly 35 minutes of a 129-116 loss to unbeaten Golden State.
Top overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns finished with 17 and 11 rebounds for Minnesota, which allowed Stephen Curry to score 46 points and the Warriors to shoot 53.9 percent from the field.
Mitchell still came away impressed with how Wiggins wanted to play through his injury.
"That’s part of being a pro and being a good player in this league," Mitchell said. "You’ve got to learn how to play when you’re nicked up. I was proud of him."
Wiggins had 30-point games in each of his previous two, but he might find it tough to get going Friday. There’s a good chance George could be matched up against him.
"It’s how I made my name in this league, wanting to guard the best player or match up against the best player," George said. "That’s what I do. It’s fun to me. I don’t take it as it’s going to drain me or tire me out. It energizes me when I can get a stop on the best player. It gets me going when I can get a stop against the best guy on the other team."
George scored 35 points and grabbed 11 rebounds the last time he faced the Timberwolves on Feb. 19, 2014.