The Pacers bring their league-leading defense into the Mile High City and try to put a rare blemish on one of the league’s best home records. In last week’s Pacers/Grizzlies game, the frontcourt battle was a heavyweight clash between opposing defensive giants. Today, the Pacers face arguably the best offensive frontcourt in the league. Kosta Koufos (4th), Javale McGee (7th), and Kenneth Faried (14th) are all among the league leaders in FG%. Faried is also a beast on the offensive glass, ranking 9th in Offensive Rebounding %. Not to be outdone, Roy Hibbert ranks 3rd in the same category, as well as 3rd in block %. More importantly, check out where the Pacers’ top three rank in Defensive Win Shares – Paul George (1st), David West (4th), and Hibbert (5th).
Keys to Victory: When these teams faced each other in Indiana earlier this season, the Nuggets pulled out a 92-89 road upset. The Pacers received solid contributions from their entire starting lineup, yet next to nothing from their bench. Anything but a minus rating from Gerald Green and Tyler Hansbrough will lead to a Pacer victory. The Nuggets starters were outscored 55-37 by their bench. McGee had the game of his life, scoring all nine of his field goal attempts. Imagine if at least one Nugget starter scored more than 12 points?
Prediction: Denver wins 99 – 87.
These two teams faced off back in early December. The Lakers won easily (103-89) despite missing two key players. L.A. was without Pau Gasol and Steve Nash. New Orleans was also missing rookie standout Anthony Davis and Eric Gordon. When Gordon finally started his season, the Hornets were a league-worst 6-23. Since then, the Hornets have gone 8-6, defeating the Spurs, Mavericks, and Rockets along he way. Each starter is settling into their role. Greivis Vazquez ranks third in assists. Ryan Anderson ranks first in 3-pointers shot and made. Anthony Davis has turned around his rookie campaign and showing shades of Tim Duncan 2.0. Gordon has shown why he was the other major piece in the Chris Paul deal, leading the team with over 17 points per game.
Keys to Victory: With Gordon occupying Kobe Bryant’s time, it’ll be up to Vazquez to run amok on Steve Nash. 20 points and 15 boards from “Pass-quez”, combined with a Davis keeping Howard under 12 rebounds should help New Orleans pull off the victory. For the Lakers, Metta World Peace needs to limit Anderson, especially from behind the arc. They’ll also need Kobe to shoot 50% or better.
Prediction: Lakers win 109 – 99.
Miami easily won the first two meetings. The difference is that neither of those games were in Brooklyn, and Joe Johnson had yet to really come on offensively at that point in the season and reclaim to his all-star worthy status. Speaking of which, the Nets have three players who have legitimate arguments as All-Star snubs – Johnson, Deron Williams, and Brook Lopez. Brooklyn will be out for revenge against a Miami team that’s only won four out of 10 road games against teams currently in a playoff position.
Keys to Victory: The Heat are so awful at rebounding (30th in the NBA), that they’ve signed Chris ‘Birdman’ Andersen to help crash the boards. Yet, after two games, the Nets have only out-rebounded Miami by three boards. With Andray Blatche, Kris Humphries, Reggie Evans, and Lopez all healthy, Brooklyn needs to dominate the glass. For Miami, they’ll only go as far as LeBron James takes them. A triple-double please, Mr. James!
Prediction: Brooklyn wins 93 – 87.
I love these types of games, regardless of sport, where a top defense battles a top offense. It’s the type of matchup that indicates which of the two is more prevalent in that given sport in that given year. For example, a game like this in 1993 would favor the Thunder, since the pace was quicker (league average was 96.8) and scoring was higher (105.3). 20 years later and this now favours the Grizzlies, as the pace has slowed to 91.8 and scoring has dipped to 97.7. This is the same reason why Memphis was able to prevail 107-97 in Oklahoma City on November 14.
Keys to Victory: The magic number is 100. When the Thunder score less than 100, Oklahoma City are 4 – 8. The Grizzlies are a perfect 12-0 when they hit the century mark. Kevin Martin will have to play better than his 7 point, -13 rating, and zero assist outing in their November matchup. Keep an eye on Tony Allen and Mike Conley on the defensive end. If they’re able to harass Russell Westbrook into another bad shooting game (6-19 on Nov. 14), then expect another Grizzly win.
Prediction: Oklahoma City wins 95 – 89.
Remember In last year’s playoffs when the Pacers were leading 2-1, and up 10 in the third quarter on their home court against a Heat team that was without Chris Bosh? With their proverbial backs against the wall, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade combined for 43 points in the second half to win the game and, eventually, games 5 & 6. You get the feeling that Miami is looking at this game in the same light. Indiana won the previous outing and are only four games behind Miami for top spot in the East. Don’t be surprised if you see one of these three scenarios: a) James goes off for 35 points, 15 boards, and 8 dimes; b) George gets shut down to the tune of 10 points on 3-15 shooting and 4 turnovers; c) Wade and James combine for 60+ points.
Keys to Victory: We’ve obviously been spoiled by James in terms of his production. 25 points, 9 rebounds, and 7 assists would be an outstanding line for George. For James, those are his per-game averages! James will be the catalyst for any of those winning scenarios listed above. For the Pacers to win, George needs to keep James under 50% shooting (limiting his inner Jordan) and keep him under 6 assists (limiting his inner Magic).
Prediction: Miami wins 94 – 87.
The Bulls and their two All-Stars, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah, visit Atlanta and their two snubbed All-Stars, Josh Smith and Al Horford. When these teams faced each other on January 14th, the Hawks were held to a franchise-low 20 points in the first half of a 97-58 rout. Do you think the Hawks will have some extra motivation in front of their home crowd? Atlanta fans can take solace in remembering the 92-75 drubbing they handed Chicago on December 22nd. This had the makings of an epic seven-game series to watch in April……..but then we’re reminded that Derrick Rose should be back in a couple of weeks. Atlanta, you’d better win these Bulls matchups while you still can!
Keys to Victory: The Bulls have had their difficulties against top defensive teams. We’ve reached the halfway of the season and they’ve already lost to the Pacers (x2), Grizzlies, Clippers (x2), and these Hawks. Strong performances from the Bulls’ other borderline All-Star, Carlos Boozer, could be just what the doctor ordered. After registering five consecutive double-doubles in early January, Boozer has only had one game of double-digit rebounds over the last four games. In their December game, Atlanta was led by Lou Williams, who was +29 and hit three 3-pointers. Kyle Korver will need to step up and hit the long jumpers, which will spread Tom Thibodeau’s tight defensive scheme.
Prediction: Atlanta wins 82 – 80.
I had this game pencilled in as the “battle for the best point guard” heavyweight title match. That dream is dead now that Rajon Rondo is to miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. Add in Chris Paul’s own knee injury, which has kept him out of six of the Clippers last eight games. CP3′s replacement, Eric Bledsoe, has been putting up similar numbers as a starter that he was compiling as a backup – yet, having played twice as many minutes! You’d hate to point fingers, but the rest of the Clippers have been producing the same, and L.A. has lost four consecutive games. The Celtics are also in desperation mode, having lost their floor general while clinging to a two-game lead for the final playoff spot.
Keys to Victory: As foreshadowed above, the Clippers will need a solid game from Bledsoe. When the Celtics visited L.A. on December 27th, Bledsoe was able to collect 6 steals, but the rest of his stat line was unimpressive (3 points, 4 dimes). For Boston, they’ll need their veteran point guards, Jason Terry and Leandro Barbosa, to help out in Rondo’s absence, in terms of stabilizing the offense – something along the lines of a 5:1 assist:turnover ratio. On the defensive end, Courtney Lee (who leads the team in steal %) and Avery Bradley will need to step up their defensive intensity.
Prediction: Los Angeles wins 103 – 98.
Last Week: 3 – 4
Season Record: 46 – 34
Topics: Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls, Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Memphis Grizzlies, Miami Heat, New Orleans Hornets, Oklahoma City Thunder