Indiana (17-11, lost last four) @ Cleveland (10-16, lost last two)
* 93.96 points per game (18th in the NBA) vs. 97.62 points allowed per game (24th)
* 43% FG (20th) vs. 45.9% FG allowed(26th)
* 43.08 rpg (9th) vs. 40.39 rebounds allowed (6th)
* 20.54 apg (18th) vs. 16.23 TO pg (25th)
* 94.46 ppg (17th) vs. 92.82 points allowed (9th)
* 42.9% FG (24th) vs. 42.8% FG allowed (8th)
* 43.36 rppg (7th) vs. 42.71 rebounds allowed (22nd)
* 17.93 appg (28th) vs. 15.29 TO pg (17th)
PG-Darren Collison vs. Kyrie Irving
SG-Paul George vs. Daniel Gibson
SF-Danny Granger vs. Omri Casspi
PF-David West vs. Antawn Jamison
C-Roy Hibbert vs. Semih Erden
Cleveland-Ramon Sessions, Alonzo Gee, Samardo Samuels, Tristan Thompson
Indiana-Tyler Hansbrough, A.J. Price, Dahntay Jones
Injuries of note
Cleveland-Anderson Varejao (wrist, out indefinitely), Kyrie Irving (head, game time decision)
Indiana-Jeff Foster (back, day to day), Danny Granger (ankle, game time decision), George Hill (ankle, out)
The Pacers won a thriller in OT vs. the Cavaliers on December 30, but it took a failed would be game-winning floater at the end of regulation from Kyrie Irving (following one of his patented, ankle-breaking crossovers) for Indiana to even get the chance to close the deal at home. If there’s one thing the Pacers, and the rest of the league for that matter, has learned between then and now, it’s that Irving is no joke. His quickness off the hesitation dribble and stutter step is unparalleled. The 20 points he put up against Indiana in the teams’ first meeting was just the tip of the iceberg. Since then, Irving has scored 20 or more on 11 separate occasions, and is averaging a team high 18 ppg on the season. The good news is that Irving has missed three consecutive games with a concussion, and as of press time is no lock to play tonight. If Irving can’t go, backup journeyman Ramon Sessions will be a fine substitute. Sessions has averaged 18.3 ppg, 12.3 apg and has shot 52% from the floor in three starts since Irving first went down. Sessions, known for his dribble penetration and kick out skills, has not only done his best Irving impression, he’s proven to be a superior facilitator for Cleveland’s offense. It bears mentioning, however, that the Cavs’ high motor big man, Anderson Varejao, will miss his second straight game tonight, and at least a month more with a wrist fracture, and the team is perilously short on reliable, proven bigs to step into his place.
The Pacers are dealing with significant injuries (and general malaise) of their own. Leading scorer Danny Granger was limited to just 12 minutes in last night’s blowout loss vs. Miami thanks to a sprained ankle, and he’ll likely be a game-time call. George Hill is still out, and Jeff Foster was limited to 8 minutes last night, and will almost certainly not play tonight, as doctors have not cleared him to play in back-to-back games. With Indiana missing potentially three very important rotation players (including one starter), this once deep team is down to just 10 active players, and will have its hands full just chasing around a similarly-injured, but admittedly healthier Cleveland team tonight.
Roy Hibbert has now gone three straight games with single digit rebounds, and was barely a factor against a Miami team he should have easily exploited. If the Pacers are smart, they’ll feed him even more tonight, as he faces the anonymous likes of Semih Erden and Smardo Samuels. Indiana has looked particularly ineffective running the pick and roll/pop of late, and is having trouble involving big men Hibbert, West and Hansbrough (who have all struggled offensively from time-to-time). Tonight, to even have a chance against a beatable, vulnerable opponent, that has to change. While Indiana has a very clear low post advantage on this team, the Pacers perimeter defenders will most likely again struggle to cover Cleveland’s ultra-quick point guards. We’ve seen first-hand what Irving is capable of (almost single-handedly beating the Pacers in dramatic fashion), and Sessions has established himself as a Pacer killer, averaging 15 ppg and 9.3 apg in six career starts vs. Indiana (dropping double-digit assists in three of them).
Prediction: Pacers 95, Cleveland 89
Indiana has to stop the bleeding somehow. This is a pivotal and defining moment for the team, and Frank Vogel’s coaching staff. With the All-Star Break approaching, Indiana has an opportunity to capitalize on a suddenly easy stretch in what has been a somewhat brutal schedule to start the year. Four of the team’s next seven games are at home, and of those seven opponents, none have winning records. 4-5 wins over the next two weeks is exactly what this team needs to shake off the putrid stink of a four-game losing streak.
If Irving Plays you start him, no question. If not, we’ve already been over Sessions’ statistical impact, and how he can help you in the assists (and apparently the FG%) category. If you’ve been blessed with enough bench spots to handcuff Sessions to Irving, smart move, evidently. There aren’t any other mouth-watering options in Cleveland, which is all the more reason to start one of their point guards. Darren Collison is not a good defender, and 20 points with near double-figure assists should be a given for whichever one gets the most minutes.
I sound like a broken record, but Hibbert will be handed a great matchup tonight, and should be universally started despite his recent struggles. With Danny Granger potentially out, Hibbert will be option 1A on offense for the Pacers. If you want to get cute you can consider Dahntay Jones if he starts for Granger, as theoretically he should be in line for some hustle stats, at least, but he had a minimal impact in 30 minutes last night, scoring 10 on 4-7 shooting and, um, that’s pretty much it.
Lucas Klipsch is a so-called amateur sports writer for this Pacers site, which he’s attempting to improve. He has 18 Twitter followers, and two of them are porn spam that he’s too incompetent to figure out how to block. If you want to become #19, follow him @LukeNukem317