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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Indiana Pacers Preview

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The Blazers take on the 5-seed from the Eastern Conference.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Portland Trail Blazers Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (19-27) vs. Indiana Pacers (30-16)

Sunday, January 26 - 6:00 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Rodney Hood (out), Zach Collins (out), Jusuf Nurkic (out), Skal Labissiere (out), CJ McCollum (probable)
Pacers injuries: Malcolm Brogdon (out), Victor Oladipo (out), JaKarr Sampson (questionable), Goga Bitadze (questionable), T.J. Leaf (questionable; somehow the Pacers have three T.J.’s on their roster)
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW, NBA TV (outside of Portland)
How to stream: Blazer’s Edge Streaming Guide
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: Indy Cornrows

The Portland Trail Blazers look to get back on track after a rough 133-125 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday. Portland should be helped by the return of CJ McCollum. The Blazers’ number two scorer has sat out the past three games with an ankle sprain. McCollum is not on Sunday’s injury report.

The Pacers are concluding a five-game Western Conference road trip in the Moda Center. They have gone 3-1 on the trip so far with their latest win, 129-118, against the Warriors. Starting point guard Malcolm Brogdon is expected to miss the game as he recovers from a concussion suffered on Wednesday in Phoenix.

What to watch for

  • Win the three-point battle. Portland’s game against Dallas turned into a three-point contest. Both teams hit over 20 threes and shot a combined 43 of 86. Don’t expect that on Sunday. While Dallas is second in the league in three-point volume (both shooting and making), Indiana is dead last. The Pacers only attempt 27.4 threes a game and get over 58 percent of their scoring from two-point attempts (the highest mark in the league). At the same time they defend the three-point line well, giving up only 11 threes a game (third best in the NBA). Portland likely will need to connect on more shots from distance if they hope to get a victory.
  • Can Dame keep it up? Over his last two games Damian Lillard is averaging a ridiculous 54 points per game. He’s done it by being aggressive, getting into the lane and putting up shots from just past half court. Lillard has hit 19 of his 35 three-point attempts (54.3%) and connected on all 23 of his free throws (100%) in the two games. Don’t expect Lillard to continue to average over 50 points per game, but he is averaging 31.4 points in January while shooting over 41 percent from distance. Hopefully, the return of CJ McCollum will help ease the scoring burden for Portland’s All-NBA guard.
  • T.J. Warren vs. Trevor Ariza. T.J. Warren (somehow the Pacers have three T.J.’s on their roster) is Indiana’s leading scorer with 18.3 points per game. He’s been hot of late, averaging 22.1 points while shooting nearly 60 percent his last five games. He’ll be matched up against Portland’s newest player, veteran Trevor Ariza. Ariza, a strong defender, can hopefully slow down Warren. The Blazer offense got a nice boost from Ariza in his Portland debut. He scored a season-high 21 points and connected on 4 of 6 of his three-point attempts. Blazer fans shouldn’t expect the 15-year vet to average 20 points a game, but he’s more than capable of knocking down a shot while providing solid defense.

What they’re saying

C. Cooper of Indy Cornrows notes that the Pacers have been winning close games despite not having a go-to closing lineup:

According to PBP stats, Indiana’s starting lineup (Malcolm Brogdon, Jeremy Lamb, T.J. Warren, Myles Turner, and Domantas Sabonis) has played less than 20 percent of the team’s total possessions as a unit in games that have been within five points in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter and overtime. Granted, some of that is a product of injuries. Brogdon alone has missed seven such “clutch” games with the team going 4-3 in his absence compared to 9-5 when he’s been available, but Nate McMillan also doesn’t shy away from making adjustments or simply rolling with what’s working, either.

ESPN’s Zach Lowe wrote that Malcolm Brogdon just missed his All-Star reserve picks:

Brogdon was the other really tough omission. He carried Indiana early, and has formed a delightful wink-wink chemistry with Sabonis. Brogdon’s numbers — including games missed — are roughly equal to Lowry’s. But Brogdon averages seven fewer minutes per game, gets to the line less, and is shooting a tick worse from deep on way fewer attempts. He isn’t quite as dynamic — and not a five-time All-Star coming off a championship.

Tony East wrote for Forbes that T.J. McConnell (somehow the Pacers have three T.J.’s on their roster) has been a critical part of Indiana’s success:

On offense, he can break into the defense basically whenever he wants — early or late in the possession. He never lets the speed of a set escape him. On defense, he’s a pest. He contains opposing ball handlers 94 feet from the basket and refuses to get beat. The 6’1” guard does a great job of establishing whatever “tempo” the coaching staff asks him to set.