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Game 60 Preview: Pacers vs. Blazers

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Everybody's heard it by now.  0 wins in the last 9 games versus the Pacers.  The last team Brandon Roy has never beaten.  Since we're all up into (excellent) statistics lately, how about this one?  You better be able to win at least 10% of your games against Indiana.  I mean, what are the odds of that NOT happening?

(I know...completely fuzzy, non-sequitur, invalid stuff there.  Hey, if it nets us a win, I'm going with it.)

A Look at the Pacers

Actually nowadays it's not so much a look at the Pacers as a look at the crater where the Pacers used to be.  Before this year you could count on certain things.  Jermaine O'Neal, when healthy, was a force.  Danny Granger would kick you with his multi-layered scoring after O'Neal knocked you down.  Jamaal Tinsley wouldn't hit shots but he would set everybody else up and defend like crazy.  These were the pillars on which the Pacers' roof stood.  Now O'Neal is gone, on his third team in less than a year.  Tinsley has been persona non grata around Indianapolis since last season.  Granger is injured. 

Cue up the reserve forces!

OK...here comes...Mike Dunleavy Jr.?  He's a nice player but not exactly the intimidator, even offensively.  And oh, look!  He's out too with a knee problem!  OK then,  T.J. Ford!  He used to be great three seasons and half a dozen injuries ago.  He's still quick, mostly.  Marquis Daniels!  Didn't he play for the Mavs once, back when he had game?  Troy Murphy!  He, at least, is chugging along as ever, averaging 14 points and 12 rebounds per game.  Jarrett Jack.  Great percentage shooting, a little bit of everything, still not a guy you're afraid of.  Rasho Nesterovic?  Sure sign your team has jumped the shark.  Jeff Foster...solid.

You recognize all of the names in there, just like you recognize all of the ingredients to General Tso's chicken when they're laid out before you.  There's just one problem.  WHERE'S THE CHICKEN?  This is just breaded sauce.  At least give me some reject McNugget parts in the middle.  No, not McRoberts, McNuggets!  Oh, nevermind.

"So, oh semi-witty one..." you say, "Tell me how the Pacers have won 5 of their last 8 with Granger out."  OK, I will.

First, you have to attribute some of that to schedule.  Yes, they beat Denver.  (Extra Blazer Bonus Points for that!)  But Minnesota, Chicago, and Sacramento aren't exactly murderer's row.  Plus they lost to Charlotte and the Knicks.  Now, if the Blazers come out and play like one of these teams they're going to get beat.  But they really shouldn't.  It would be quite the letdown after that marvelous San Antonio game.

Second, you have to give the Pacers credit because they have multiple players stepping up, made possible by their almost total unselfishness.  You cannot guard one Pacer.  You have to guard five.  Unless Jeff Foster is on the court.  Then you can guard four and a half.  Ford, Daniels, Murphy, and Jack have all notched 20-point games in Granger's absence.  Even rookie Brandon Rush put up 17 and he's shooting worse than anybody on the team.

You particularly have to watch out for Indiana's deep ball, as they attempt a ton of them and play good shooters at the top of their rotation.

Overall the Pacers' M.O. is to get up a ton of shots.  A ton and a half if they can manage.  They don't care where they fire from as long as they're open.  They're not a big threat in the lane in any case.  As with many volume-shooting teams they commit and force a lot of turnovers.  They would not mind a ragged game at all tonight.  They are good defensive rebounders but nothing to write home about on the offensive glass.

The Pacers need to get over 100 points.  That was easier before Granger went down but they've still managed it in 5 of their last 8, 4 of those being wins.

Keys to the Game

1.  Portland needs to be prepared to defend the jump shot as assiduously as they shoot it.  That also includes rebounding those long misses.  This needs to be a group rebounding effort tonight because just as you never know where the shot is coming from on a given play, you never know where the miss will carom.

2.  I have no objection if the Blazers push the pace off of those long misses, converting them into quick and easy points.  Just don't let the Pacers do the same.

3.  To that end, attack the defense.  They've got some gritty frontcourt players but no intimidating defensive forces inside.  Foster is probably the closest.  Charge at them hard and make them pay for getting there slowly or rotating to help.

4.  Watch the turnovers.

5.  Don't let Jarrett Jack have a revenge game.

Final Thoughts

This game is no less important than the San Antonio game was.  In fact it's needed in order to validate the Sunday win record-wise.  Losing this one would almost be like giving that one back, as one might have guessed we'd be 1-1 in these two games.  If the Blazers come with energy and focus they should break the win drought against the Pacers.  It would be plenty nice to put the game away early again in order to rest the starters for tomorrow in Denver.  Whatever it takes, though.  Just win.

Check out our friends at IndyCornrows for the Pacers' side of things.

Enter tonight's Jersey Contest form here.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)