Indiana Pacers (7-11) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (14-4)
Thursday, December 4
Moda Center; Portland, OR | 7:00 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSNNWHD; 620 AM
Out for the Blazers: Will Barton (day-to-day) | Out for the Pacers: Paul George, George Hill
SBN Affiliate: Indy Cornrows | Timmay's Viewing Guide | BE's 2014-15 Pacers Season Preview | Blazer's Edge Night
The Blazers return home to the Moda Center tonight to host the Indiana Pacers before embarking on a five-game road trip next week.
The Pacers have lost four of their last six games and two straight, coming into tonight's matchup at 7-11 on the year.
For the season, Indiana is statistically in the bottom-third of the league in many offensive categories. However, the Pacers started the year with a 1-6 record, skewing their early-season numbers quite a bit. Since, they've played at more of an average level -- over the last five games, Indiana ranks no better than No. 14 but no worse than No. 19 in points per game (101), assists per game (22.8), field goal percentage (44.9 percent) and free throws attempted per game (22.2). The Pacers do a few things fairly well, like limiting their turnovers and hitting three-pointers. They get up a lot of shots but don't push the ball often.
Indy coach Frank Vogel hasn't had a near-full roster to work with all season until recently -- forward Paul George is still doubtful for the year and guard George Hill won't play his first game for at least a few weeks -- having to patch together rotations while center Roy Hibbert, forward David West and guards Rodney Stuckey, C.J. Miles and C.J. Watson all missed significant time at one point or another.
Now that the Pacers are as healthy as they've been all year, Vogel has dialed in a 10-man rotation.
In his first game back from a four-game absence, Hibbert led the team in field goal attempts in a 116-99 loss to the Suns Tuesday night. He shot 6-of-14 from the floor, half his attempts coming inside and the rest from the midrange, where he was much more efficient. On the season, Hibbert's been a reliable scorer in the paint and an average jumpshooter, not hesitating to step out for shots about 10 feet out.
West hasn't been shy getting shots up since joining the Pacers lineup for the first time all season three games ago against the Magic. He's been dynamite in limited attempts in the paint, connecting on 75 percent of his shots at the rim, but West's midrange jumper -- which accounts for two-thirds of his shot attempts -- has gone in only 34.5 percent of the time. Many of his looks come in catch-and-shoot situations, unlike Hibbert, who creates his own offense half the time.
Stuckey attacks the basket fairly often, but has made only 52.9 percent of his shots at the hoop the last five games. He also likes the midrange jumper, but has been good on only about 42 percent of them in that span, his best shot coming from the right elbow.
Stuckey's starting backcourt mate, point guard Donald Sloan, leads the team in assists the last five games but has struggled with his own shot in that time, making just 38.3 percent of his field goals and 21.4 percent of his threes. Starting small forward Solomon Hill doesn't look for his own shot often, and when he does, he's been inconsistent the last couple weeks, most recently shooting 1-of-5 against the Suns.
Power forward Luis Scola is a scorer off the bench, hitting over half his midrange shots the last five games but unable to score inside efficiently. Backup center Ian Mahinmi played well when Hibbert missed a string of recent games, and he's hit almost two-thirds of his 5.4 shots per game, which come almost exclusively within a few feet of the basket.
Reserve forward Chris Copeland is a huge threat to score from deep off passes, knocking down 47.1 percent of his threes the last couple weeks, all of them assisted. Miles gets up more three-pointers than any of his teammates, but he's been cold lately. Watson doesn't take a lot of shots in his backup role, but when he does, he's scored well inside and from beyond the arc lately. Though they played pretty substantial minutes when the Pacers lacked depth due to injuries, forwards Lavoy Allen, Damjan Rudez and Shayne Whittington only played in garbage-time against Phoenix and probably won't see meaningful minutes against the Blazers tonight, barring unforeseen circumstances.
Indiana's defense has played pretty mediocre lately. The Pacers do not defend uptempo teams well, and though they don't allow the opposition to get up a lot of shots, they've been the worst defending team within the arc the last five games, allowing 50.5 percent overall from the field for opponents in that time. Indiana defends the paint effectively and doesn't allow easy passing by opponents, but also doesn't seal the perimeter well.
Portland has won 11 of its last 12 contests, dating back to almost a month ago. The Blazers' offense has been mostly solid but also unspectacular at times lately, like the 8-for-28 three-point shooting performance in the loss to the Grizzlies last Friday or the 5-for-22 outside shooting debacle two nights ago in Denver.
Portland relies on power forward LaMarcus Aldridge for much of its offense. He's attempted over half his shots from the midrange the last five games, where he's been good for 44.6 percent on them, mostly coming at the left elbow or baseline. Heading into the fourth quarter trailing the Nuggets on Tuesday, though, Aldridge willed his team to victory by taking advantage of an undersized Denver frontcourt and muscled his way throughout the paint for most of his touches. He finished with 39 points on 16-for-30 shooting, helping to seal the win over the Nuggets by picking up the game's final assist on a pass to center Robin Lopez down low after receiving the ball at the top of the key on an inbounds play with less than five seconds left.
Point guard Damian Lillard has continued his recent struggles scoring from game-to-game. His three-point shot has been off the mark the last five contests, going in just 26.7 percent of the time for the third-year guard who shoots 41.5 percent from deep on the year. Almost three-quarters of Lillard's scores within the arc come off the dribble, and his pull-up jumper has been on target lately, but he's been unable to score inside with consistency, often going to the floor after trying to draw contact but only going to the line 4.4 times a game the last five. Mysteriously, Lillard's struggled to hit foul shots recently after starting the season among the league-leaders in free throw shooting percentage. He's been good at holding onto the ball and has been a good distributor when necessary.
Guard Wesley Matthews was in the midst of a dominant stretch of outside shooting heading into the game against the Nuggets on Tuesday night, but he connected on just one of his 10 three-point tries. Matthews' found ways to score on shorter jumpers, though, and most of his threes were clean looks even though nine of the 10 clanged off the rim. He gives up a bit of length to Stuckey and Miles, but is bulkier than any of the Pacers' backcourt players and should be able to supplement his scoring with his back to the basket if he has another off-night from deep.
Forward Nicolas Batum only got six shots up in 36 minutes Tuesday night, instead setting up his teammates, raking in 13 assists -- half Portland's total as a team. When Batum's not scoring -- and he hasn't lately, hitting just 32.7 percent of his shots the last five games and an abysmal 4.2 percent of his threes -- he's proven he can still contribute by getting the ball to his teammates for open looks.
Lopez hit all five of his field goal tries against Denver, including the go-ahead layup at the end of the game after sealing off Nuggets forward J.J. Hickson to get the open look from Aldridge. Lopez had been struggling from the field recently heading into Tuesday's game, so his solid outing may be an indicator that he's ready to get back to his early-season form when he was hitting well over half his shots.
Center Chris Kaman has been the most productive player off the bench for Blazers coach Terry Stotts all season, but went just 2-for-6 against Denver and has been struggling from the field the last several games. After a hot start to the year, Kaman's been unable to connect lately on his jumper and has also seen his efficiency in the paint shrink significantly, as well. The Pacers won't present many easy opportunities for him to get his scoring back to where it was earlier in the season, especially considering Hibbert is healthy again and West is back on the court for Indy.
Reserve point guard Steve Blake had struggled all season from the floor before Tuesday's game, but he hit all five of his shots -- including three triples -- against Denver to supplement his excellent passing. Guard Allen Crabbe played 17 minutes but didn't hit a shot, though he's been over 40 percent from deep the last five games and backup center Joel Freeland picked up 10 minutes. He's not likely to shoot much, but when he does, Freeland's been bankable with his jumper. Stotts' rotation has tightened up recently to feature just nine players.
Portland's defense has been fairly mediocre lately, outside of its defense of the three-point line. Over the last five games, the Blazers have only allowed opponents to attempt 13 threes a night, giving up just 30.3 percent on them. In that time, though, they've allowed easy passing, haven't forced turnovers and have given up 48 percent field goal shooting to opponents. Hibbert, West and Scola will be a tough frontcourt rotation to defend, as they all are capable of stepping out of the paint for jumpers.
The Pacers are one of the better rebounding teams in the league for the season, but have dropped off slightly as they've been working West and Hibbert back into the rotation lately. With Allen heading to the end of the bench, Indy's rebounding has taken a hit as Scola has secured most of the backup power forward minutes behind West. The Blazers are the fourth-best defensive rebounding team and are No. 8 in offensive rebounds the last five games. Percentage-wise, Portland is top-8 on both ends of the floor for the season, with Freeland, Kaman and Lopez leading the charge on the offensive end while Aldridge mostly cleans up the glass defensively.
The Blazers have been out-rebounded in two of their last three games, though, and that includes a loss to the Grizzlies and a 2-point win over the Nuggets that required a spirited comeback. Hibbert is a big body and West and Scola will pull Portland's defenders away from the rim, so the Blazers won't be able to come out with another flat performance on the boards and expect to win easily.
Portland has the No. 8 pace factor in the NBA, according to ESPN.com, and the Pacers struggle defending teams that push the ball. Facing top-10 teams in pace five times this season, Indiana has won just a single game -- against the lowly 1-17 Sixers, who hadn't won until last night against the Timberwolves.
If the Blazers keep their tempo up -- they don't score on the break often but have gotten up more shots the last couple weeks than every team but the Mavericks -- they'll force their style of play on Indiana, a team ill-equipped to deal with fast opponents. The Pacers don't have a true go-to player offensively, instead relying on a balanced scoring attack. They do, however, play much better when Hibbert has his offense rolling, so Portland needs to limit his easy looks to get the best chance at a win tonight before heading out on the road for five straight.
-- Chris Lucia | email@example.com | Twitter