- When: Tuesday, 24 February 2015 at 7:00 PM EST
- Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK
Six in a row and 8 out of 9. The Thunder finally have a rhythm about them. Russell Westbrook is playing at an MVP level, Serge Ibaka is working more from the paint than from the perimeter, and the new guys are integrating seamlessly. All this with two starters being out (Steven Adams (hand) and Kevin Durant (foot)). The Thunder have marched from a 3-12 start to being up 2 games on the 9th seeded New Orleans Pelicans. With the way this season has gone, you’re almost fearful of getting too giddy to appreciate how the team has played of late. It seems like there’s always some basketball boogeyman lurking around the corner, and I’m not talking about DeMarcus Cousins.
This is the first meeting of the season between these two teams. The two teams split their season series last year, with each team getting a victory on their home floor. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for these Pacers. They were the antithesis to the “Big 3” Miami Heat and were built like the New York Knicks of the 90’s. Unfortunately, when they play the Thunder, all that good feeling goes away.
The Indiana Pacers come into the game with a 23-33 record, one game back of 8th spot in the Eastern Conference. Their struggles this season can be directly tied to what happened in early July in Las Vegas. Paul George suffered a horrific leg injury in the public scrimmage for Team USA. Luckily for all parties involved, the sight of the injury was probably more gruesome than the actual after-effects. Bone fractures are easier to recover from in athletics compared to ligament tears. The Pacers, themselves, are very similar to the team that played last season. They struggle on offense (96.2 points per game, 23rd in the league), but are top 10 in defensive efficiency and opponent points per game. A lot like the Thunder, the Pacers are starting to get healthy and are on a bit of a hot streak, having won 6 of the last 7 games (which includes streak-busting victories against Cleveland and Golden State). In the backcourt, the Pacers trot out veterans George Hill and CJ Miles. Hill has played much better of late, after starting the season injured with a sprained knee. Solomon Hill has been much more effective as a starter, than coming off the bench. Up front, the veteran duo of David West and Roy Hibbert continues to pose difficulties defensively for opposing teams. The bench, one of the better ones in the league, is a veteran-laden group that features Luis Scola, Rodney Stuckey, CJ Watson, and Ian Mahinmi.
Probable Starting Line-Ups
- PG – George Hill
- SG – CJ Miles
- SF – Solomon Hill
- PF – David West
- C – Roy Hibbert
Oklahoma City Thunder
- PG – Russell Westbrook
- SG – Andre Roberson
- SF – Kyle Singler
- PF – Serge Ibaka
- C – Enes Kanter
3 Keys to the Game
1. Pace – The Pacers, a lot like the Memphis Grizzlies, like to grind out possessions and beat you in the half-court. They play inside-out with Hibbert and West with Miles waiting for open shots on the wing. Unlike the Grizzlies, the Pacers are prone to turnovers (14.4 per game, 17th in the league). If the Thunder can create those turnovers and turn them into transition opportunities, that will help them immensely in this game. Also, with Westbrook pushing the pace, the Thunder should be able to play their brand of basketball and not the Pacers’ brand.
2. Interior Defense – This will be a great test to see how the Ibaka/Kanter duo works defensively. While Hibbert will never be seen as an offensive talent, he and West compliment each other well and will be a handful for the Thunder.
3. Bench – Indiana’s bench is very good and has talent all over the board. Scola is a tough interior cover, Mahinmi averages about 2 offensive rebounds per game, Watson is a good floor general, and Stuckey is prone to scoring outbursts (two consecutive 30 point games off the bench). If the Thunder want to stay in the game, their bench has to put the pressure on the Pacers’ reserves and defend them well.