Portland Trail Blazers (31-28) vs. Indiana Pacers (31-27)
Sunday, February 28
Bankers Life Fieldhouse | 3 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSNNW; 620 AM
Portland injury report: None | Indiana injury report: C.J. Miles (out)
SBN Affiliate: Indy Cornrows | Blazer's Edge Night 2016
The Portland Trail Blazers head to Indiana tonight to take on the Pacers in the second game of a six-game road trip. The Blazers picked up their 12th victory in 14 games last night against the Chicago Bulls.
The Pacers are coming off a 96-95 home loss to Charlotte on Friday night. Indiana trailed for much of the second half, but managed to grab a small lead mid-way through the fourth after ratcheting up the defensive intensity. The teams traded leads the rest of the way, until Kemba Walker clinched the Hornets' victory with this layup:
Paul George was sensational for the Pacers, scoring 32 points on 13-26 shooting and adding a Damian Lillard-esque buzzer beater for good measure. It was his ninth consecutive game with 20 or more points, during which time he has averaged 26.2 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game.
Despite the loss to the Hornets, the Pacers have played well recently. Since Jan. 28 Indiana has gone 8-5, rebounding from a stretch of 13 losses in 20 games. Over the last 13 contests, the Pacers' defense has excelled at taking away open shots. Their opponents' have shot only 44 percent from the field (no. 6 in the NBA) and 31.6 from three (no. 2 in the NBA). Overall, Indiana has the second best defensive rating in the NBA for the season (99.4).
The Pacers' improved play was sparked by coach Frank Vogel's decision to move 6-foot-11 Myles Turner into the starting power forward spot. Turner, a 19-year-old rookie, has excelled in his new role, averaging 14.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. He scored a career-high 24 points on Wednesday against the New York Knicks.
Turner also has a budding clutch resume to his credit. He hit game-clinching free throws against the Magic last Sunday, and made a game-tying three with less than a minute to play against the Thunder eight days ago. Vogel has been so impressed by Turner's play, he has actively inserted the young rookie into the team's fourth quarter gameplan.
"I'm a confident player, man," Turner said after Monday's overtime loss to the Miami Heat. "That's all confidence in late-game situations. You can't be nervous. You got to go. So, I know if I get the ball and I'm put in the situation where I need to score, I'm going to go score. If I'm an option, I'm going to present myself and make myself an option for the team."
Turner has also made his presence felt on the defensive end. The new starting frontcourt of Turner, George, and Ian Mahinmi is very long, and all three players are athletically skilled. The Pacers are able to disrupt offenses by switching nearly at-will at the forward and center positions. They also have the defensive prowess to swallow up opposing pick and rolls.
Having the two long and athletic shot-blockers on the court at the same time has been a welcome development for the Indiana defense:
"Defensively, we get stops and rebounds," George said. "That was a big factor the first half of the season, not being able to get rebounds. We were faster, but they were bigger. Myles gives us that presence.
"Having two shot-blockers out there is something I've never been part of. Roy (Hibbert) wasn't really a shot-blocker, he was more of a rim protector. And (David West) was just a tough guy. That's been the best thing, having shot-blockers."
Ben Gibson of 8points9seconds.com noted that the pairing has had undeniable benefits; the Pacers defensive rating with both Turner and Mahinmi on the court has been 91.3, but with neither player on the court it jumps to 106.
Mahinmi has been a revelation this season for Indiana - but with a polar opposite career arc to Turner. The 6-foot-11 French center has been in the NBA for seven seasons but never proven himself to be more than a competent backup. This season, he has averaged 8.2 points and 7.2 rebounds, both personal bests, as a full-time starter for the first time in his career. Mahinmi has Ed Davis-offensive range, but has played within his limits and is shooting 60 percent from the field. Vogel has also unearthed Mahinmi's potential as a "roll man," pairing him with Monta Ellis to great effect on a regular basis.
Mahinmi makes only $4 million this year and will be a free agent in July. The Pacers will likely try to re-sign him, but if they choose to pursue a max-level free agent it might become difficult to retain the center. This may be a situation for Blazers fans to watch as Mahinmi's skillset would seem to be a good match for Portland. At 29, he's slightly older than the players Blazers GM Neil Olshey has pursued thus far, but he has also played relatively few NBA minutes and may have several effective seasons left in his career.
In the backcourt the Pacers start Monta Ellis and George Hill. Indiana reportedly dangled Hill as trade bait for Jeff Teague at the trade deadline, but no deal was reached. Rodney Stuckey also returned to the Indiana backcourt on Friday, after missing over a month with an injured foot.
Tonight's game will be the second and final meeting of the season for the Blazers and Pacers. Portland won the first game 123-111 on Dec. 3, behind 26 points from Lillard. Al-Farouq Aminu and Allen Crabbe played solid defense on George, holding the Pacers star to 11 points on 4-17 shooting.
Keys to the game
Dominate the backcourt: Last time these teams played, the Pacers bigger guards tried to use their size to bully the Blazers' backcourt, but Lillard and McCollum ended up winning the duel, outscoring Ellis and Hill 47-20. Dominating the guard matchups will be essential for the Blazers to offset the disadvantage in the frontcourt. This goal should be very achievable given the way Ellis and Hill have shot this week (as described by 8points9seconds.com):
In the two Pacer losses this week - both games where the Pacers held the lead with less than five seconds - their starting backcourt of George Hill and Monta Ellis combined to shoot 9-for-50 from the floor. That seems...less than helpful.
Allen Crabbe: On Dec. 3 Crabbe played a major role in shutting down George. He will need to at least make George work for his points again tonight to help give the Blazers the edge. Bonus points if he can regain the torrid shooting stroke he had earlier in the season.
Don't give Turner open looks: Turner's midrange game has greatly improved the Pacers' spacing and been a primary reason for their recent success. It's going to be tempting to leave the rookie open to help put defensive pressure on Indiana's slashing wings George and Ellis. But that could spell doom - as outlined above Turner has proven that he is capable of hurting the opponent if taken lightly.