Trail Blazers (7-4) vs. Indiana Pacers (7-4)
The Portland Trail Blazers return home following a win over the Sacramento Kings looking to add another victory to their tally as they take on the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers arrive in Portland fresh off of a victory over the Golden State Warriors and following a trade that sent Victor Oladipo to the Houston Rockets. It is unlikely that Caris LeVert, the new acquisition for the Pacers, will clear physicals in time to play.
Thursday, January 14 - 7:00 p.m. PT
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW, or see games all season on fuboTV, follow on ESPN+, or the ESPN/Disney Bundle*
Blazers injuries: Zach Collins (out)
Pacers injuries: Brian Bowen II (out), Jeremy Lamb (out), Jalen Lecque (out), Caris LeVert (questionable), TJ Warren (out)
SBN Affiliate: Indy Cornrows
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What To Watch For
- Defense. The Trail Blazers have struggled to find their footing on defense this season, with some games showing outstanding defensive effort, while in others the defense fails to show up. Facing the Kings, the Blazers presented a hot-and-cold effort on defense, allowing the Kings to take advantage of them in transition and when Jusuf Nurkic was not on the floor. The Pacers are apt to take advantage of those same weaknesses. The defense that showed up in the fourth quarter against the Kings is the one the Blazers need to show up against the Pacers.
- Lights-Out Shooting. While the season started off — and continues to be — hot for CJ McCollum, Rip City wondered when Damian Lillard would show up. Against the Kings, Lillard tallied 40 points, including 6 of 15 from the three point line. McCollum had a similar performance from three with 6 of 16. It seems reasonable to expect the duo to go off again tonight, especially since Lillard looked like he has found his stroke for the season.
- Jusuf Nurkic. While the Bosnian Beast has made a frequent appearance as someone to watch, the game against the Kings made his importance all the more clear. When he went to the bench with foul trouble, the Kings stepped up and took advantage of the Blazers’ weakness on defense without Nurkic in the game. Nurkic needs to play smarter and harder while keeping his hands clean. Foul trouble two games in a row could be very problematic for the big man, especially since this is the second night of a back-to-back.
What They’re Saying
Over at Indy Cornrows, C. Cooper says the Pacers need to get weird on defense to make up for their deficiencies.
Overall, per Synergy, teams are scoring 1.344 points per possession on post-ups including passes against Indiana — the worst mark in the league, albeit on early-season volume (65 possessions). Despite starting two centers, much of the problem stems from the fact that the Pacers, in fielding a roster loaded mostly with bigs and combo guards, are oftentimes too slight to effectively guard mismatches straight-up while also at times being too bulky to recover out on kick-outs after doubling.
At Forbes, Shlomo Sprung reflects on the Pacers’ trade maneuvers and what they get by adding Caris LeVert.
Rather than losing him for nothing and then trying to replicate that value in a shallow free agent market next summer, the Pacers opted to flip Oladipo for a younger player at a similar position in LeVert, who has an additional two years and $36.2 million left on his contract beyond this season.
LeVert has proven he can be a valuable scorer and ball-handler in the league, averaging 18.5 points and six assists per game both starting and coming off the bench for Brooklyn this season. It’ll be interesting to see how Indiana uses him, whether in the same backcourt with Malcolm Brogdon or utilizing him off the bench.
James Herbert of CBS Sports states that Pacers’ All-Star Damontas Sabonis is kicking his play up a notch this season.
Sabonis is driving to the basket almost twice as often as he did last season, and he is shooting 66.7 percent on those drives, per NBA.com. At the rim, he is shooting a scorching (and wildly unsustainable) 73 percent, per Cleaning The Glass.
When Sabonis posts up, Bjorkgren’s emphasis on spacing means that Sabonis has more room to operate. He is taking full advantage of this, averaging 8.8 post-ups a game, which ranks fifth in the league. In the modern NBA, most bigs only post up when they have a matchup advantage. Sabonis goes right at defenders his size or bigger. On New Year’s Eve, Cleveland Cavaliers center Andre Drummond resorted to flopping and earned a technical foul for complaining when he didn’t get the call.