Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Indiana
When: 4:00 PM Pacific Time
How to Watch: Fox Sports Prime Ticket, AM 570 Radio
Projected Starting Lineups:
Clippers: Milos Teodosic, Austin Rivers, Tobias Harris, Wes Johnson, DeAndre Jordan
Pacers: Darren Collison, Victor Oladipo, Bojan Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young, Myles Turner
Clippers: Danilo Gallinari Out (Fractured Hand), Avery Bradley Out (Abdominal Surgery), Patrick Beverley Out (Knee Surgery)
Pacers: Domantas Sabonis Out (Ankle)
The Big Picture:
The Clippers are in 10th place in the Western Conference, still two losses back of the current 7th and 8th seeds. With 11 games left on the schedule, the Clippers probably need to go at least 8-3 to make the playoffs barring a tremendous collapse from one or more of the teams above them, a situation that is more unlikely by the day. The Clippers played well in Milwaukee on Wednesday, demonstrating a focus and level of play that hadn’t been seen for weeks prior-- they will need to keep that up for the rest of the season if they are to make the playoffs. Unfortunately, their schedule remains as tough as ever, and most of the teams they will face are fighting for their postseason berths as well. The Clippers are by no means out of the playoffs, but at this point it would be surprising if they made it.
The Pacers have had perhaps the best story of any NBA team this season. Widely predicted to be a middling lottery team, topping out at a win total in the 30s, the Pacers are one win away from clinching a playoff spot. They have done so behind the All-Star play of Victor Oladipo, who has made the Paul George trade look very respectable indeed. Oladipo’s outside shooting has fallen off over the course of the season, yet his other improvements (rebounding, defense, free throw attempts) have held, and he has an outside shot at the All-NBA Third Team. Oladipo is not alone, however. He’s been supported all season by a strong cadre of veterans: Thad Young, Darren Collison, Lance Stephenson, and Cory Joseph. None of them are close to stars, but they don’t need to be. Their brand of basketball has proven effective—keeping games close to the 4th quarter, and then letting Oladipo take over, filling in as shooters and defensive players around him. Myles Turner has had an up-and-down season; the big man struggled to adapt to the new Oladipo-centric universe at the start of the year. Recently he’s been in beast mode, showing off why some people consider him to be one of the future stars of the NBA. The Pacers are dangerous but not contenders, a solid playoff team that has a chance against any team on any given night. That’s a far cry from what they were projected as last summer, and coach Nate McMillan deserves a ton of credit for their success.
- Battle of Backup Big Men: With Sabonis out, Al Jefferson has returned like a phoenix from the ashes to reclaim his spot as the Pacers’ backup center. Even in his prime Big Al was a slow, plodding center. Now he’s akin to a turtle who’s been smoking too much weed recently, playing at an almost lethargic pace. This makes him a vulnerable target on defense, where quicker players can work their way to the basket easily. Montrezl Harrell counts as quick and explosive, and he should have a field day working against Al. On the other end, however, Jefferson’s post moves remain deadly, and his size gives him an advantage over Montrezl. While the Clippers will probably live with post-ups from Al, if he gets on too much a roll they might have to send help for Trez in the post.
- Wes Johnson Starting: Doc Rivers made a change to the starting lineup against the Bucks, re-inserting Wes into the starting lineup in favor of Sindarius Thornwell. The switch could have been because of the difficulties in matching up with Giannis Antetokounmpo, and therefore a one game move, but it’s possible it will last as well. As bad as Wes is on offense much of the time, he’s still more of a threat to shoot from deep than Thornwell and is correspondingly covered closer on the perimeter. He’s not nearly as strong a man to man defender as Sin though, which could be a factor today against the smaller Oladipo. It will be interesting to see who Doc rolls with in this one, as each player brings their own advantages and disadvantages to the starting lineup.
- Guarding Oladipo: The Clippers’ biggest concern in this matchup will be containing Victor Oladipo. Austin Rivers will probably get the first shot on him, but Doc Rivers won’t want to tire out one of his strongest offensive players on an exhausting defensive matchup. Sindarius should be a good option too, as he doesn’t give up much size, and has the strength to hold strong against Oladipo’s drives. It’s possible Jawun Evans gets some minutes on Oladipo as well in short stints to pester him the length of the court, as he has done so effectively to opponents all season. It will be a team effort, however, and DeAndre Jordan will certainly be tested a lot around the rim. Hopefully the Clippers step up to the challenge.
For the Pacers’ perspective, check out Indy Cornrows.