Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
When: 7:30 PM PT
How to watch/listen: NBA TV, Fox Sports Prime Ticket, AM 570
Projected Starting Lineups:
Pacers: Darren Collison – Wes Matthews – Bojan Bogdanovic – Thaddeus Young – Myles Turner
Clippers: Shai Gilgeous- Alexander – Pat Beverley – Landry Shamet – Danilo Gallinari – Ivica Zubac
Pacers: Victor Oladipo Out (Knee), Alize Johnson Out (Foot)
Clippers: Luc Mbah a Moute Out (Knee)
The Big Picture:
While the Clippers have won seven of their last eight games, they still sit in 8th in the Western Conference because the teams ahead of them are equally hot. The Spurs have won nine in a row, the Jazz have dropped a couple but won enough to stay afloat, and the Rockets have surged up to 3rd in the standings. The only West team that has struggled recently is the Thunder, which is dealing with Russell Westbrooks’ bricks as well as some regression by Paul George. The Clippers are still probably the least talented of any of these teams (possibly barring the Spurs), but have played better than ever since the trade deadline. Danilo Gallinari is on fire, Lou Williams continues to make big plays, and the rookie connection of Shai to Shamet promises years of exciting basketball ahead.
In the Nets and Pacers, the Clippers are playing two games in a row against the teams most comparable to them in the 2018-2019 season. All three teams play hard, never give up on a game, and have had a lot of upheaval during this season. The Pacers have missed Victor Oladipo, their best player, for over half the season, and even in the games he did play, he clearly wasn’t healthy. But, somehow, the Pacers are still 44-27 with the 4th best record in the Eastern Conference, scraping by (much as the Clippers have done) with gritty veterans and talented youngsters. Myles Turner is a legit DPOY candidate, Domantas Sabonis is in the 6th Man of the Year and Most Improved Player discussions (though probably won’t win either), Bojan Bogdanovic is a flamethrower three, and Thad Young is one of the most underrated do-it-all players in the NBA. Even without Oladipo, the Pacers are a very competent, unforgiving opponent. With him, they truly would have been a threat to win the East this season. They’re coming off a loss to the Blazers last night, but the Clippers can’t expect an easy win whatsoever.
Clippers need to be sharp offensively: The Pacers have the third best defense in the NBA with a 105.3 DRTG, just a hair behind the Bucks and Jazz. Turner is a destroyer of worlds at the rim, a lengthy, springy athlete who has a phenomenal second jump and good instincts. The Clippers can’t go up soft around the basket, or their shots will get rejected. On the perimeter, Wes Matthews and Cory Joseph lead a persistent, physical group that will not back down from similar behavior from Pat Beverley or Garrett Temple. It’s going to be tough to score on Indiana, even though they’re traveling on the second night of a back to back, and the Clippers can’t be careless with the ball or execute half-heartedly. Every point will need effort.
Shutting down Bojan: With Oladipo out, wing gunner Bojan Bogdanovic has assumed the role of head of the Pacers’ offense. Bojan is a tall wing with a very quick release, and when he gets hot can look unstoppable. Pat Beverley is a bit undersized to contest his looks, but will probably get a shot at Bojan at some point due to his physicality. Shamet has defended relatively well off-ball as a Clipper, particularly tracking guys coming around screens, so he also might be solid on Bojan. Really though, Shai or Temple might be the best bets due to their size and length. All in all, it will take a group effort to slow down Bojan, but if the Clippers are able to do so, they have a good chance at winning.
Sabonis vs. Trez: Without giving the matter any true consideration, Montrezl Harrell and Domantas Sabonis are the two best backup big men in the NBA. They play with different styles, but both are highly effective and centerpieces to what their team’s do. Trez is all passion, energy, and aggression: he likes to dunk on, through, and over people as much as possible. Sabonis can throw down too, but he’s generally smoother, with a nice finesse game in the post as well as a bit of range. Both of them should be able to score on each other – the question is which one will put the clamps on defensively.
Doc’s bench rotations: Doc has been experimenting with his bench rotations since Wilson Chandler made his debut 10 days ago. Playing Chandler next to Green at small forward was only used for 1.5 games, but it looked bad throughout, and Chandler didn’t play in the 2nd half against the Nets. Instead, Shai played alongside Lou and Temple, with Doc staggering rather than turning to another reserve wing such as Ty Wallace or Sindarius Thornwell. It will be interesting to see if Doc returns to Chandler in this one, if he goes with one of the youngsters, or shuffles Shai or Pat back in with the bench. The Pacers’ bench is good and has several tough covers, so his decision could be pretty important for this contest.
Check out Indy Cornrows for the Pacers’ perspective, and come back tonight for the game thread!