Portland Trail Blazers (17-6) vs. Indiana Pacers (7-16)
Saturday, December 13
Bankers Life Fieldhouse; Indianapolis, IN | 4:00 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSNNWHD; 620 AM
Out for the Blazers: | Out for the Pacers: Ian Mahinmi, George Hill, Paul George, C.J. Miles (day-to-day)
SBN Affiliate: Indy Cornrows | Timmay's Viewing Guide | Blazer's Edge Night
The Blazers land in Indiana today for a 4:00 p.m. bout with the Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Both teams are playing on the second half of a back-to-back tonight, Portland losing in Chicago yesterday and the Pacers dropping a game in Toronto.
Indiana has lost seven straight, including an 88-82 loss to Portland just nine days back.
The Pacers have only managed to score 94 points a game the last five, shooting 41.6 percent from the floor and 29.7 percent from deep. Their ball movement has been mediocre, they're prone to turning the ball over at times and don't draw many free throws. No one on the team is averaging more than small forward C.J. Miles' 14.6 points per contest the last five outings.
Miles left last night's game against the Raptors with a bruised left knee and didn't return, his status for today's matchup with the Blazers still uncertain. In a stroke of bad luck, this came just 13 minutes into his first game since joining the starting lineup after coach Frank Vogel opted to give Miles the nod.
It's not as if the Pacers aren't used to operating with a patch-work lineup this year; Vogel has used seven different starting lineups in 23 games and only forwards Solomon Hill, Chris Copeland and Luis Scola have played in every game.
Guard Rodney Stuckey is probably Indiana's most potent offensive weapon with Miles banged up. He shoots about a dozen shots a game, driving to the rim for half his attempts where he's a bit of an inconsistent finisher. His midrange jumper isn't reliable right now either, and his best shot the last five games has been the three-pointer, which he's hit at a 44.4 percent rate in that span. Stuckey doesn't go with the outside shot as often as he should, though, getting up under two threes a night recently. The last time the Blazers and Pacers played a week-and-a-half ago, Stuckey led Indiana in scoring with 16 points on 7-for-15 shooting.
Power forward David West, mostly a jumpshooter, hasn't been able to connect on many of his shots lately, but he did make six of his 13 attempts against Portland nine days ago and went 6-for-9 last night in Toronto. Scola, his backup, had a relatively quiet night against the Blazers, going 4-of-8 from the field. He's made half his shots the last couple weeks, and operates pretty well in the paint for a power forward who takes a decent amount of his shots from the midrange.
Center Roy Hibbert went just 2-for-7 from the field last night against Toronto and was 4-of-10 against Portland last week, his shots not falling very well recently. Copeland, Hill and guard C.J. Watson have all been worse from the field, none of them shooting over 34.1 percent the last five games. The trio's outside shooting has been abysmal, too, as they've combined to shoot 27.5 percent from deep in that span, all shooting 2.6 or more three-pointers a night.
Backup guard Donald Sloan has been pretty bad in limited attempts off the bench. Forward Lavoy Allen has made almost three-quarters of his shots the last five games but gets up fewer than five a night, mostly against reserves. Forward Damjan Rudez is shooting well but similarly to Allen, doesn't put up a ton of attempts.
Indiana, once famed for its defense, has put up pretty average stats the last several weeks and allowed Toronto to hit 38.5 percent of its threes last night while scoring 50 points in the paint. Otherwise, the Pacers' defense wasn't particularly bad, though it wasn't good, either. On Dec. 4 in Portland, they held the Blazers to 39.8 percent shooting from the field and a dreadful 19 percent from deep, muddying up the game and losing mainly because of the ineptitude of their own offense and Portland's solid defense.
The Blazers, for the most part, have turned in lackluster performances the last several outings, losing two in a row to the Timberwolves and Bulls earlier this week. They had a solid start to last night's game, with power forward LaMarcus Aldridge dropping 21 points in the first quarter, but Chicago stormed back in the second period and never relinquished the lead behind 31 points from point guard Derrick Rose.
Portland's offense has been lagging behind its defense lately as the Blazers sit in the bottom-third of the league in average points scored, field goal percentage and three-point shooting percentage the last five games. Things may be moving in a positive direction, though, as they made 48.9 percent of their shots and half of their threes in Chicago.
The defense that has carried Portland recently has begun to sag a bit. Though the Blazers have been able to run teams off the three-point line lately, they haven't defended inside the arc effectively. The Bulls made just 5-of-15 three-pointers last night, but hit half their overall shots and registered 115 points, 60 of them coming in the paint.
Aldridge led the team out of the gate, scoring 35 points on 15-for-24 shooting. He's been consistently shooting about 42 percent from the floor the last couple weeks, so a big night in Chicago should be encouraging. He struggled last time against the Pacers, shooting 21 shots but making just seven of them for 18 total points.
Point guard Damian Lillard also dropped 35 on the Bulls, going 13-of-21 from the field and 7-for-11 from deep, showing signs of life from beyond the arc after struggling with his outside shot for several games. Against the Pacers nine days ago he scored a game-high 23 points.
Guard Wesley Matthews continues to have up-and-down outings, ending with 10 points against Chicago on 4-for-8 shooting from the field. He's made half his field goals lately, but his outside shooting has been inconsistent. Forward Nicolas Batum still hasn't gotten back on track and is in the midst of a shooting slump, but he was a bit more aggressive last night, putting up 12 shots and bringing in five assists. Batum got up 13 attempts last time the Blazers played Indiana, so he may be looking for his own again tonight.
Centers Robin Lopez and Chris Kaman didn't shoot very well against the Pacers nine days back and combined to go 3-of-12 from the floor last night. Neither has been able to score consistently for several games after both started out the season as key role players in the offense.
At this point, coach Terry Stotts knows what he's going to get from backup guards Allen Crabbe and Steve Blake: solid shooting in limited attempts while keeping the offense moving, along with solid effort on defense. The same can be said for reserve big man Joel Freeland, who usually plays limited minutes but saw even fewer last night in Chicago, with forward/center Meyers Leonard getting some run. If the third-year player's performance against the Bulls last night was any indication, though, Stotts will likely be giving that time back Freeland or seeing if little-used backup forwards Dorell Wright or Thomas Robinson are worth a look.
The Blazers again got crushed on the glass last night after struggling against Minnesota Wednesday. Indiana is one of the best defensive rebounding teams in the NBA and allowed just five offensive boards to the Blazers the last time they met. If Portland couldn't handle an under-manned Timberwolves team three nights ago and a Bulls team without big man Joakim Noah last night, they're sure to struggle against the Pacers' frontcourt tonight if the effort isn't improved.
Indiana hasn't won in seven games, played last night in Toronto and will likely be without Miles tonight, its most effective offensive player. Lillard and Aldridge turned in two sterling offensive performances last night, but were mostly left hanging by the supporting cast. If Matthews or Batum can also get their offensive game to click, the pacers are a beatable team, even at home. Still, Portland has to improve its rebounding to stand a chance against an Indiana team that, at 7-16 for the season, sits just three games outside of the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.
-- Chris Lucia | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter
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