Feb 28, 2012; Chicago, IL, USA; New Orleans Hornets point guard Jarrett Jack (2) drives past Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose (1) during the first half at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-US PRESSWIRE

Game Preview: Indiana Pacers @ New Orleans Hornets

Indiana (22-12, won last five) @ New Orleans (9-27, won last one)

Key Stats

New Orleans

* 88.47 points per game (29th in the NBA) vs. 93.39 points allowed per game (10th)

* 43.6% FG (18th) vs. 44.6% FG allowed (17th)

* 42.31 rpg (15th) vs. 40.5 rebounds allowed (5th)

*20 apg (20th) vs. 15.28 TO pg (21st)

Indiana

* 95.71 ppg (13th) vs. 92.12 points allowed (8th)

* 43% FG (22nd) vs. 42.6% FG allowed (8th)

* 44.35 rppg (4th) vs. 42.28 rebounds allowed (19th)

* 17.88 appg (28th) vs. 14.77 TO pg (13th)

Position-by-position Matchups

PG-Darren Collison vs. Jarrett Jack

SG-Paul George vs. Marco Belinelli

SF-Danny Granger vs. Trevor Ariza

PF-David West vs. Gustavo Ayon

C-Roy Hibbert vs. Chris Kaman

Key Reserves

New Orleans-Greivis Vasquez, Al-Farouq Aminu, Solomon Jones

Indiana-Tyler Hansbrough, A.J. Price, Dahntay Jones, George Hill

Injuries of note

New Orleans-Jason Smith (concussion, day to day), Trevor Ariza (illness, day to day), Emeka Okafor (knee, day to day), Carl Landry (knee, out), Eric Gordon (knee, out)

Indiana-Jeff Foster (back, day to day)

Breakdown:

The last time these two met, on Feb 21, New Orleans gave the Pacers all they could handle, eventually losing to the blue and gold 117-108 in OT. Some late-game heroics by Roy Hibbert, David West and Darren Collison propelled the Pacers to victory, despite allowing Jarrett Jack and Trevor Ariza to hit some crucial fourth quarter shots to put the game within reach for the Hornets. As we assumed at the time, the talented but tragically-injured Hornets were a tough out, and they’ll be even tougher at home tonight. Luckily, since the last meeting, the injuries have continued to mount. While New Orleans is coming off of a stunning victory over the defending champion Dallas Mavericks, they played without defensive ace Ariza, who is battling illness. Would-be starters Okafor and Eric Gordon remain out (though Okafor should return soon, perhaps tonight) and reserve forward Carl Landry is out indefinitely.
While the Hornets’ record isn’t much better than the league-worst Charlotte Bocats, they proved on Feb 21 that they can do to the Pacers what most teams can: produce from the point guard position. Jack and Vasquez combined for 28 points and 17 assists to just five turnovers in that meeting. While there weren’t many rebounds to be had (both teams shot over 50% for the game) the Pacers did out-rebound the Hornets, and will look to do so again tonight, as they enter the matchup fully rested, having not played since Tuesday when they beat Golden State at home. New Orleans played just last night.
It’s crucial that Indiana wins tonight. Following this game, the Pacers play nine straight games vs. teams with records north of .500, including a brutal four game stretch featuring road games vs. Chicago, Miami and Orlando. Here’s hoping the Magic have traded Dwight Howard by March 11. Regardless, with a loss tonight, a worse-case scenario for the Pacers is the month of March exposing them as pretenders, and them emerging in April with a .500 record themselves, and battling for a 7 or 8 seed, vs. their current lofty 3 seed. The Pacers have struggled with consistency, especially when it comes to perimeter defense and shot selection on the offensive side, and they’ll need this game to get focused and prepared for the coming hellish stretch.

Prediction: Pacers 98, Hornets 89

One of the reasons New Orleans was able to keep things so close last time was that they shot over 60% in the first half, including 70+% in the first quarter. That realistically shouldn’t happen again, even if the Pacers are laid back on defense. Still, with Indiana’s brutal schedule looming, they can’t overlook the gritty Hornets. Paul George is hungry, Danny Granger seems to be getting his edge back and Darren Collison may be motivated by all the trade talk. Indiana should put this one in the bag.

Fantasy Outlook:

Jack has reclaimed his starting job, and is a sleepy fantasy option normally, but a great one vs. Indiana. It’s possible that he’ll replicate his double-double off the bench from last time. You’d think Aminu would have capitalized on his starting opportunity last night, but he was relatively quiet, scoring 6 points to go with 8 rebounds on 25 minutes. Don’t get cute with him, even if Ariza can’t go. Granger and George should easily lock him down.

We’re still waiting for Paul George to gain some consistency, but this post-All-Star stretch may be the time. He’s scored in double figures in 7 of his last 8, has a combined 17 blocks/steals over his last five, and a combined 46 assists/rebounds over that same span . He’s a stat-stuffer who should now be universally-started. Hibbert was on a roll with three straight double-doubles before playing just 20 and 21 minutes in respective blowout wins vs. Charlotte and Golden State. Expect this one to be a little closer, and start Hibbert with confidence as you normally would.

Lucas Klipsch likes his game previews with a side of custom Jack Daniels meat SAUWCE! Follow him on Twitter @LukeNukem317

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