Pacers look to improve defense this season

Updated: September 26, 2009, 3:02 AM ET
Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana Pacers coach Jim O'Brien is making it clear that defense will determine both playing time and his team's fate this season.

O'Brien constantly mentioned the importance of stopping opponents on Friday, after the high-scoring Pacers ranked 26th in the league in scoring defense last season, surrendering 106 points per game, and missed the playoffs for the third consecutive year.

"We enter this season having looked at what we thought was a weakness from the standpoint of the defensive end," O'Brien said. "We drafted and signed guys that we believe have the capability of helping make that a strength of ours instead of a weakness."

Denver Nuggets guard Dahntay Jones is the key defensive addition. He averaged just 5.4 points and 2.1 rebounds last season, but his most important skill is his on-ball defense.

O'Brien said Jones, best known for pestering Kobe Bryant during the Western Conference Finals, would add some of the intensity and postseason experience the team needs.

"When you have a guy that has the experience of playing the other team's best player, in the playoffs, in the regular season ... that's tremendous experience," O'Brien said. "Dahntay knows that's his reputation. He welcomes having that reputation."

Pacers All-Star forward Danny Granger might be the happiest person to see Jones. Granger averaged 25.8 points per game while often having to defend the other team's best perimeter player. That won't happen so much now.

"It helps me," Granger said. "I'll have some of the defensive responsibility, but not all of it. I think he's probably our best defensive player, and probably after him would be Brandon (Rush), so it takes a lot of pressure off me."

Rookie forward Tyler Hansbrough is known for his toughness and hustle, two areas the Pacers felt they needed to improve. Other newcomers with solid defensive reputations include guards Luther Head and Earl Watson, and forward Solomon Jones.

Head split time between Houston and Miami last season. His best season was 2006-07, when he averaged 10.9 points and nearly a steal per game as a reserve for Houston. Watson has averaged 7.3 points and 4.6 assists over his career, including 6.6 points and 5.8 assists last season for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

T.J. Ford appears to have the inside track to the starting point guard position, though O'Brien said nothing is settled. Watson appears to be his toughest competition at a spot that includes Travis Diener and rookie A.J. Price from Connecticut.

O'Brien said Ford played good defense at the end of last season, and he will be a key component to the team's defense this year. He started 49 games last season and averaged 14.9 points, despite splitting time with Jarrett Jack, who now plays for Toronto.

"It's imperative that our defense starts with their ability to pressure the basketball," O'Brien said. "That's a great place to start -- to have a veteran like that that can really pressure the ball."

The acquisitions will help the Pacers embrace defense instead of being a team that tries to.

"I really think it's a mindset," Granger said. "You can drill defensive principles every practice, but I think once we develop that mindset that we're a defensive team and we're going to stop you, we won't just outscore you, then we'll actually do it."


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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