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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Indiana Pacers Preview

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The Indiana Pacers are the hottest team in basketball outside of the Bay area. Can the Blazers put up any kind of fight against Paul George and his new look team?

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (7-12) vs Indiana Pacers (11-5)
Thursday, December 3
Moda Center | 7:00 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSNNW; 620 AM
Portland injury report
Chris Kaman (Questionable - Ankle | Indiana injury report: Myles Turner (Out - Hand)
SBN Affiliate: Indy Cornrows | Blazer's Edge Night 2016

After dropping a heartbreaker against the Dallas Mavericks, the Portland Trail Blazers take on Paul George and the red-hot Indiana Pacers tonight at home.

Winners of 11 of their last 13 games, the Pacers and Coach Frank Vogel have made the commitment to a floor-stretching, small-ball offense this season. After a tough adjustment period to open the season, losing their first three games, Indiana has been dialed in on both sides of the ball. While this very writer had them pegged to be nothing more than a lower seed, playoff one-and-done team, the Pacers currently sit second in the Eastern Conference behind the Cleveland Cavaliers and ahead of expected contenders in the Chicago Bulls and Toronto Raptors.

In recent memory, Indiana has been a grinding, defensive minded team, but things are different this year. Currently the Pacers rank No. 9 in pace, while managing to also rank No. 9 in fewest turnovers. This ability to push the tempo without being careless with the ball is somewhat of a rarity, as pace and turnovers are often correlated.

Additionally, Indiana is currently shooting 40 percent from the 3-point line as a team, only topped by the Golden State Warriors, who are currently putting up video game stats down in the Bay Area.

This isn't to say that the Pacers have given up their defensive identity; while they currently have an 11th ranked ORtg of 104.4, Indiana has the second best ranked defense in the league, with a DRtg of 98.0.

Keying Indiana's meteoric start has been forward Paul George. Traditionally a small forward, George has been playing the stretch four with great success so far this season and has, somewhat quietly, put together the makings of a career year. Through 16 games, George is averaging 27.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 7.5 free throws, and 46 percent shooting from distance, all career highs. With the ability to out-quick traditional power forwards, while still having the length to smother other stretch fours, George has proven himself to be a match-up nightmare.

The Pacers backcourt has been causing problems for opponents this season as well. Combo guards George Hill and Monta Ellis have worked well together in the early going, with Ellis in particular showing a willingness to share the ball that had been lacking in previous seasons. Acting as George's pressure valve, both players are contributing in separate ways; with Hill taking nearly half of his shots from 3-point land and connecting on 42 percent of them, and Ellis taking most of his shots either at the rim, or in the midrange.

Starting small forward C.J. Miles is in the midst of a career year so far as well, averaging 15.4 points per game while hitting 43 percent from the 3-point line. A spot up shooter, Miles does very little creating on his own, with teammates racking up an assist on 92 percent of his field goals.

In the middle, the Pacers feature a two man unit of Ian Mahinmi and Jordan Hill.  Both players stay in their lane and do little on the offensive end outside of 10 feet.

Indiana features a relatively deep bench, with five reserves averaging more than 13 minutes per game. Hill, Rodney Stuckey, Lavoy Allen, and Chase Budinger all see significant minutes, though their shooting percentages are a significant drop off from the starters.

The Blazers are coming off of a difficult late loss to the Dallas Mavericks, giving up a seven point lead in the last two minutes of regulation before falling in overtime. Portland's starters struggled mightily but the bench stepped up big time, with Allen Crabbe scoring 18, Meyers Leonard dropping 23, Gerald Henderson chipping in 20, and Ed Davis scoring 10 points to go with 5 rebounds.

After Tuesday night's performance, it will be interesting to see if Blazer coach Terry Stotts reinserts Meyers Leonard into the starting lineup. Noah Vonleh was quite ineffective in his limited minutes and Leonard clearly presents more offensive spacing options. While Leonard is ready to play heavier minutes, it remains to be seen how Stotts will approach the matchup with Paul George at power forward. Running Meyers out there runs the risk of leaving him defensively exposed on the perimeter, where George attempts seven 3-pointers per game.

The other critical matchup to watch tonight is CJ McCollum on Monta Ellis. Ellis does a masterful job of using screens to get into the midrange, something that McCollum struggles to defend. If Ellis, who is starting to get going after a slow start to the season, is able to heat up, Portland could be in for a long night.

Keys to Victory

Avoid another slow start: In their last two games against the Los Angeles Clippers and Dallas Mavericks, Portland has limped out of the gate, falling behind 29-18 to the Clippers and 20-5 to the Mavericks. The Blazers have got to do a better job from the opening tip, whether that's implementing the game plan, reacting to immediate adjustments, or simply making shots. Last year's Blazers could come from behind. This year's iteration? It's a lot tougher.

Close out on perimeter: The Pacers are a 3-point powerhouse. Portland needs to do a good job committing to either fighting through screens or switching on the pick-and-roll. Being caught in between the two, even for a split second, will get them burned from deep against the Pacers. The only Indiana players to really do any damage inside are Ian Mahimni and Monta Ellis; the other three starters combine to average 19 3-point attempts per game. Get a hand their face.

Protect the basketball: The Pacers force nearly 18 turnovers per game, and the Blazers turn the ball over nearly 16 times per game. While Indiana has active hands, Portland needs to avoid the careless, lazy turnovers that have plagued them at times this season. Don't give opportunities to a team that is adept at taking opportunities.

Rebound: One area where the Blazers have a clear cut advantage. Portland ranks third in the league in total rebounding, Indiana comes in at No. 27. The Blazers need to hit the glass hard and use every opportunity to get second chance points or leak out for smart transition buckets.

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