(Eds: Updates. With AP Photos.)By CLIFF BRUNTAP Sports Writer
The Pacers won’t be double-teaming Dwyane Wade.
Thanks to Paul George, they don’t feel that will be necessary.
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George, a 6-foot-9 guard, made a name for himself last year as a rookie when he challenged Derrick Rose in the first round of the playoffs. Now, he’ll face Wade, one of the league’s quickest players, in the second round of this year’s playoffs. He’ll get a chance to see how far he’s come, starting with the opener Sunday in Miami.
”I’m going in with the same mindset,” George said. ”He’s a good player, but he’s human. He’s liable for turnovers, and I can just get the pressure and make it tough for him this series.”
George spent most of the first half of last season on Jim O’Brien’s bench. When Frank Vogel took over as coach at midseason, George got more playing time. He wowed crowds with his acrobatic dunks and highlight-reel blocks, creating a buzz with his enormous potential.
George’s success against Rose last year gave him a boost heading into the offseason. He improved his shot, put on muscle and studied.
”For him to grow toward the end of last year and have a strong performance in the playoffs against Derrick Rose, I think, just brought him back this season with a great deal of confidence,” Vogel said. ”He had a number of steps along the way this year where he had strong defensive performances, and quite frankly, in my mind, it puts him among the best wing defenders in the league.”
George knows he can’t slip if he’s going to defend Wade. He also realizes he’s going to need to attack on offense so Wade will have to expend energy on defense. He’s got the talent to make Wade sweat: George averaged 12.1 points per game and shot 39 percent from 3-point range this season after averaging 7.8 points and shooting 30 percent from the 3-point line last year.
”This series is really where I can’t have a night where I’m not aggressive,” George said.
George also will need to be smart. He must deal with Wade’s veteran knowledge as well as his quickness, aggressiveness and strength.
”It’s going to be a good test for him,” Vogel said. ”He’s a very young player, but he’s come a long way with his defensive capabilities. He’s got instincts you can’t teach, great length and athleticism. It’s going to be a good matchup against Dwyane Wade’s savvy and shot faking and all that stuff.”
There have been challenges for George this season. Wade got the best of him, getting him up in the air and scoring on a circus shot at the end of overtime on March 11 for the game winner with 0.1 seconds left.
”That last shot, that’s really what he gets paid for, that shot right there,” George later said. ”He gave me his all.”
George, who often has demonstrated the ability to grasp things quickly, gets a chance to prove he learned from that encounter with Wade.
”I think he’s ready for it,” Indiana forward Danny Granger said. ”Paul is an outstanding defender in this league. He covers so much ground. I think this will be a great challenge for him, and I think he’ll live up to it.”
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