The Indiana Pacers (38-10) will face the upstart and surprising Portland Trail Blazers (35-14) tonight, Feb. 7, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana still holds the best record in the NBA and is riding a five-game winning streak. Portland has dropped three of its last five games, but still sits in third-place in the Western Conference.
Portland won the first matchup against Indiana back in December. The last meeting between the Pacers and Blazers was one of the best games in the NBA this season. Paul George scored a career-high 43 points, but LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard combined for 54 to lead the Blazers to a 106-102 victory in Portland. Tonight’s matchup will pit four NBA All-Stars against one another.
Portland has one of the most explosive offenses in the NBA, due in large part because of guard Damien Lillard and forward LaMarcus Aldridge. Lillard is becoming an elite point guard in the league, and he recently announced that he was performing in five events during the All-Star game weekend. But no matter what, I truly believe that a Pacers/Blazers matchup in the NBA would be a very interesting match up for the NBA title. It may not be the most glamorous but it might be the most fitting.
For one, both teams have built up their team through draft picks. Unlike the Miami Heat, both Indiana and Portland have taken their draft picks and developed them. As mentioned for Portland, Lillard, Aldridge, and Nicolas Batum all have been draft picks for Portland. For Indiana, Lance Stephenson, Roy Hibbert, and George all have been draft picks. Neither team has truly had to delve into free agency like the Miami Heat.
One of the main battles is in the paint between Roy Hibbert and Aldridge. This is a battle of NBA All-Stars. Aldridge is becoming an elite offensive threat for Portland, where as Hibbert is a dominant defensive player.
Both of these players could face each other, but another potential matchup in the paint could be Robin Lopez against Hibbert. Lopez has become the starter at the center position alongside Aldridge at the power forward position. In this case, David West would most likely guard Aldridge. West is a shut down defender, however, Aldridge has mastered the turn around jumper that is very hard to guard, especially for West.
Tonight Indiana will be without guard Lance Stephenson who suffered a nasty injury on Tuesday, Feb. 4, against the Atlanta Hawks. Stephenson was fouled as he went up for a dunk and landed on his back. Since then, he’s been diagnosed with a bruise and is day-to-day. Danny Granger will make the start in the place of Stephenson.
It will be interesting to see how Granger steps up into the starting role. I know he’s been there and done that, but I want to see how he can last out there as a starter since coming back from injury. Granger has become a very pivotal role coming off the bench.
In other news, recently Indiana signed free-agent center Andrew Bynum, and he practiced for the first time today with the team. Head coach Frank Vogel said “that it will be ‘a week or two’ after the All-Star break before the team even starts deciding if Bynum is ready,” after practice concluded on Friday.
I’m curious, as everyone else is, what will happen with Bynum. What will happen with Ian Mahinmi? If I were Vogel, I would utilize all three tall centers.
Indiana has one of the best frontcourts in the NBA at the moment. If they are going to beat the Heat, then the Pacers will need to utilize those centers down low because that is where the Heat struggle. These centers will most come in handy when facing the Western Conference foe in the finals.
With the All-Star break coming next weekend, Indiana is probably glad Stephenson didn’t get picked for the All-Star game as he will be looking to recover from the bruised back. In other NBA All-Star news, George was announced to be the captain for the Eastern Conference. In addition, the NBA announced that George would be competing in the NBA Slam Dunk Contest. George last appeared in the NBA Slam Dunk Contest in 2012.
However, Indiana cannot afford to look too far ahead because Miami is on their backs waiting to jump into the number one spot in the Eastern Conference. Indiana’s test tonight against Portland will continue to be a learning tool for a potential NBA Finals appearance.