Programming note: Warriors-Pacers coverage starts today at 3pm with Warriors Pregame Live on CSN Bay Area, and streaming live right here.
The Warriors have seen and conquered Houston’s James Harden, and twice done the same to New Orleans’ Anthony Davis and the Clippers’ Blake Griffin.
So now they get Indiana’s Paul George, who 16 months after sustaining a serious leg injury is making a remarkable comeback. He’s playing better than any of the aforementioned stars.
If there were an Eastern Conference MVP through the first six weeks, it would be George.
With the Warriors on a 26-game win streak and eight wins from getting to 34 – which would be the longest win streak in NBA history – facing George and the Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse has all the makings of a “hump” game.
If the Warriors can get past this one, getting to 34 is considerably more realistic.
Currently second in the Eastern Conference, Indiana is the best team the Warriors will see until the Cleveland Cavaliers visit Oracle Arena on Christmas Day, when the Warriors would be at home chasing their 33rd in a row.
The Pacers also have a very capable small lineup, featuring George at center, which is similar to seeing Draymond Green slide to center when the Warriors go small.
Then there is this: George is the best player the Warriors will see until LeBron comes to Oakland.
And this: Harrison Barnes, who would be one of the defenders tasked with containing George, will be sitting on the bench with a sprained ankle.
Add it all up, and the Pacers, particularly George, present as daunting a task as the Warriors have faced this season.
At 6-foot-9, 230 pounds, George brings physical characteristics somewhat similar James. In short, PG-13 is a matchup nightmare. That he was a small forward for the first six seasons but this season moved to power forward hints at his ability to operate in space or in the paint.
"I'm trying to come into this year as if I played last year and had another amazing season," George told local reporters on Media Day in September. "I have the same goal. I wasn't the MVP last year. I want to be the MVP this year."
George was a Top-10 player, conceivably a Top-5 player, prior to the injury that occurred during a Team USA scrimmage. With George sidelined last season, the Pacers plummeted to 38-44. The two previous seasons, with George as their ace, Indiana made consecutive trips to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Now, with George back, the Pacers appear to be primed for another season with 50-plus victories. He’s that important.
“It’s tough to quantify in words,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel told The Washington Post recently. “I mean, he just does so much. He’s capable of going for 40, carrying the offensive load and being the best defensive player on either team. He’s a special player, and the best two-way player in the game. We’re a different team with him out there.”
We’ll try to quantify what George brings. After finishing second in the 2013-14 Defensive Player of the Year voting, he has picked up where he left off as a superior defender. He ranks third the NBA in scoring, averaging 27.6 per game. He’s seventh in 3-point shooting percentage at 45.4 percent. He leads Indy in rebounds and steals.
That’s what the Warriors have to deal with, and they’ll utilize a variety of defenders. Green will be the primary defender, but Andre Iguodala also will get a few turns. They will miss having Barnes as an option, especially considering C.J. Miles, the forward opposite George, is Indy’s No. 2 scorer, averaging 15.9 per game.
Facing the Pacers, in Indy, without Barnes, would seem to be the most difficult challenge the Warriors have seen thus far.
It may come down to Steph Curry having to outduel the opposing team’s star. It’s not as if we haven’t seen that before.