Game 50 Preview: Trail Blazers vs. Pacers

Game Time:  4:00 p.m. Pacific  TV:  CSNNW

When the Trail Blazers last played the Pacers two weeks ago Indiana was smack in the middle of a six-game losing streak during which Roy Hibbert looked as imposing as a titmouse and every opponent seemed to score 110.  The Pacers have since fired Coach Jim O'Brien and rejuvenated their young center by letting him play near the basket where he is comfortable instead of out by the foul line where he's not.  The result has been two straight double-doubles from Hibbert and two straight Indiana victories.  Granted these came against Toronto and Cleveland but when you're 19-27 a win is a win.

The reunion of Hibbert and the rim is bad news for the center-starved Blazers, as it restores one of the underrated inside-outside combinations around the league, pairing him with super-scorer Danny Granger.  Hibbert's problem was never talent, rather offensive mobility and comfort level.  His dismal sub-44% shooting rate skyrockets when he can feast on catchable passes and offensive rebounds.  Any attention you pay to him leaves you in peril of Granger's attack.  The 21.0 ppg average is subpar compared to his best years, but Granger is still a bona fide threat.  

If you manage to cover both Hibbert and Granger, you have to watch out for Indiana's shooters.  Though their 36.2% clip from the arc only puts them in the middle of the league as far as percentage, they're third in three pointers attempted.  They'll pull the trigger anywhere, for any reason.  36% of 23 threes attempted per game works out to around 24 points from the arc, roughly a quarter of their total point production.  If they ever drew foul shots their offense would look scary but sadly they're next-to-last in the league in free throw rate, meaning their extra points all have to come off of the deep ball.

Indiana does not fast break and does not score in the paint as a rule, though they've done well inside in their two recent wins.  That makes easy points scarce, contributing to their lowly 98.3 ppg scoring average.  They're not particularly strong producing points off the bench.  They turn the ball over a lot.

The reason Indiana has 19 wins instead of 9 (I'm looking at you, Cleveland) is their defense.  Their big men are good at patrolling the lane and their guards get back on the break.  They're long enough to disrupt shots.  They're also great defensive rebounders.  The Pacers won't have an easy night offensively but they won't let you have one either.

That aside, this seems like an ideal matchup for Portland, road or not.  The opponent doesn't score in the paint, doesn't put up big numbers, and only one and a half of them need serious watching.  The bench isn't good enough to expose Portland's weak reserves.  The Blazers feast on turnovers this year and the Pacers commit them.  Portland has a knack for offensive rebounding no matter how well the opponent cleans the defensive glass.  The Pacers' weaknesses fit well with the Blazers' strengths.  The one hitch in the giddy-up for Portland will be the health of Wesley Matthews.  He's supposed to play but if he can't move on his injured ankle Portland loses its second scorer and one of its better defenders.  Andre Miller might make up the scoring but it's awfully nice to have a guy next to Nicolas Batum to pressure opposing dribblers and shooters.  Despite his occasionally-prolific steals total, Rudy Fernandez doesn't bring the same defensive qualities to the game.  And the Blazers don't want to get in a three-point shooting contest with Indiana.

It'll also be interesting to see how LaMarcus Aldridge responds to yesterday's All-Star "snub".  Ideally he'd come out and paste 50 on the Pacers, but Indiana does have extra big bodies to throw at him and thus extra hacks and shoves to waste.  A weak game from LMA would make this game much harder for the Blazers.

Indy Cornrows is your place for Pacers coverage.

Enter tonight's Jersey Contest form here.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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