Arguably the defining highlight of the first half of this NBA season occurred on a whim.
So said Indiana Pacers forward Paul George, whose 360-degree windmill dunk against the Los Angeles Clippers last week dominated highlight reels and inspired an animated re-creation on the Internet. With Indiana up by 20, George forced a turnover and executed a play not normally seen outside of dunk contests.
“That was all spur of the moment,” George said at the Pacers’ shootaround Friday. “I just saw I had an opportunity to do something special on the break and knew it was something I could do, so I just went to it.”
On a Pacers team with the NBA’s best record and defense and a Defensive Player of the Year candidate in center Roy Hibbert, it’s George, a Fresno State alumnus, who has emerged as the most recognizable face.
This week, George was named a starter for the Eastern Conference in the All-Star Game after receiving the second-most fan votes in the East behind Miami’s LeBron James. George entered Friday eighth in the NBA in scoring (23.3 points per game) and shooting the highest field-goal (46.2) and three-point percentages (39.0) of his career.
“I just think it’s a hunger in me that I take every day to get better and try to work hard to get better,” George, 23, said Friday of his breakout season. “I obviously want to reach for the moon and stars, really tapping everything I can do on the floor. It’s just wanting it, wanting to be the best player in this league.”
Meanwhile, the Pacers came in holding opponents to the fewest points (89.2 per game) and lowest shooting percentage (41.2) in the league, major reasons for their 33-8 record entering the game.
Personally on defense, George said he can be more aggressive guarding his man on the perimeter knowing Hibbert lurks behind him to protect the rim. Conversely, with George limiting dribble penetration, Hibbert is freer to guard his man and block out on rebounds without having to worry about providing help defense at all times.
Hibbert said that while George has made “big strides” on defense, the most marked difference for George on offense is “his confidence. You feel like every shot’s going in, and most of the time that’s right.”
George’s numbers have garnered him some first-half MVP consideration, though the recent performance of the Thunder’s Kevin Durant and James’ presence in the league have overshadowed that some. George said he isn’t concerned.
“I just want to keep improving and stay consistent with my team,” George said. “I think everything else will take care of itself. At the end of the day, if we’re the No. 1 team and have the best record in the league, I feel like I’ll have a strong argument.”
Et cetera – Kings coach Michael Malone sounded cautiously optimistic about injured starters DeMarcus Cousins (sprained left ankle) and Rudy Gay (left Achilles’ strain).
“The good thing is both MRIs didn’t reveal anything serious, so I’m hoping (they’ll return) in the next day or so, but it could be a couple games,” Malone said. “It’s honestly too early to tell.”
• During the game, the Kings augmented their in-venue and TV broadcasts with video taken by Google Glass units worn by team personnel. In the first half, footage shown on the Sleep Train Arena videoboard included an in-game emcee roaming the stands and the courtside view of one of the Kings’ announcers.
Call The Bee’s Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015.