Mar 09, 2012; Boston, MA, USA; Portland Trail Blazers power forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) looks for an opening against Boston Celtics center Greg Stiemsma (54) during the second half at the TD Banknorth Garden. The Celtics defeated the Portland Trail Blazers 104-86. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-US PRESSWIRE

Game Preview: Portland Trailblazers @ Indiana Pacers

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Portland (20-21, won last 1) @ Indiana (23-16, lost last 4)

Key Stats

Portland

* 98.07 points per game (7th in the NBA) vs. 94.63 points allowed per game (14th)

* 44.9% FG (14th) vs. 44.6% FG allowed (16th)

* 41.81 rpg (18th) vs. 42 rebounds allowed (16th)

* 21.59 apg (9th) vs. 14.2 TO pg (7th)

Indiana

* 95.10 ppg (16th) vs. 92.54 points allowed (9th)

* 42.8% FG (26th) vs. 42.9% FG allowed (8th)

* 43.62 rppg (5th) vs. 43.05 rebounds allowed (21st)

* 17.82 appg (30th) vs. 14.46 TO pg (10th)

Position-by-position Matchups

PG-Raymond Felton vs. Darren Collison

SG-Nic Batum vs. Paul George

SF-Gerald Wallace vs. Danny Granger

PF-LaMarcus Aldridge vs. David West

C-Marcus Camby vs. Roy Hibbert

Key Reserves

Portland-Jamal Crawford, Wesley Matthews, Joel Przybilla, Kurt Thomas

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

Injuries of note

Portland-Craig Smith (back, day-to-day)

Indiana-Jeff Foster (back, game-time decision)

Breakdown:

The Blazers are almost perfectly average on paper. They yearly overachieve in the face of almost comic injury adversity (they’ve now lost one lottery pick to knee-related early retirement, and are on the verge of losing a #1 overall pick to knee-related early retirement). But this may be the year that misfortune, bad chemistry and general lack of motivation catches up with them, and it’s evident on paper. Portland scores and moves the ball well, but hasn’t registered a quality win since Feb 21 vs. San Antonio, and hasn’t won on the road at all since Feb 15 @ Golden State. While Portland is just two games out of the Western Conference playoff picture, they have one of the league’s worst road records at 6-14. Only New Orleans, Sacramento and Utah are worse on the road in the Western Conference.

Unfortunately, the Blazers have talent, they just haven’t maximized it. LaMarcus Aldridge is a borderline Olympian, and Gerald Wallace and Nicolas Batum are widely regarded as two of the best perimeter-defending wings in the entire league. Meanwhile Jamal Crawford and Wesley Matthews are capable of providing instant offense off of Portland’s bench. But the sense in the Blazers’ lockerroom seems to be that things aren’t working; players aren’t communicating well, and that may fall on the shoulders of Nate McMillan, who may be on the hot seat if he can’t get things turned around. Whoever is at fault, this is a team that is highly susceptible to a meltdown on the road. They’ve scored 100 points or more on the road just once since January 14, and that was in Saturday’s convincing win over the exponentially more dysfunctional Washington Wizards.

Speaking of dysfunction, Indiana has its share of problems heading into tonight’s tilt. The Pacers have lost four straight, and fans’ worst fears, that Indiana is a true “pretender” vs. playoff-caliber teams, are starting to be realized. David West made no bones about this scary realization in comments he made to the Indianapolis Star yesterday. If Indiana wants to shake these blues, and avoid its second 5-game losing streak in a month, it will have to, well, it will have to play better. The defense that once defined this team needs to reappear. Shot selection and smart, decisive passing needs to return. While no one expects the Pacers to start racking up 25 assists per game, the 15 they registered in Sunday’s blowout loss to Orlando (to 39 made shots) is unacceptable. Indiana has to defend the perimeter better in order to keep Portland’s microwave scorers from getting hot. While it looks like the Pacers have sunk into a depressing rut, it’s fair to acknowledge that they almost beat Miami at home (pushing the Heat to overtime) and then had to turn around and play Orlando the next night. But no excuses will cover for the Pacers if they fail to dispatch Portland at Bankers Life Fieldhouse this evening.

Prediction: Pacers 101, Trailblazers 89

Statistically, Portland is very similar to an Atlanta Hawks team that recently beat Indiana at home. No matter, the Blazers have one great road win on the season, and as aforementioned, only six wins away from home to their name. The Pacers have at least had a couple days off, and should be motivated and ready. If they’re not, this problem runs deeper than we think.

Fantasy Outlook:

There’s generally no team in the NBA more frustrating for fantasy owners than the Pacers, but Portland comes close. At least you can rely on Aldridge. Indiana struggles with point guards, so Raymond Felton and Jamal Crawford (coming off of a 23 point outburst vs. WAS) could both light it up.

As for the Pacers, Paul George is becoming very, very exciting to own for fantasy purposes. His splits for March are freakish, and indicative of what he’s capable of going forward. His line this month: 15.4/3.7/2.0/3.4 (steals) with 45/36/88 shooting splits. Hibbert has been less than reliable during the Pacers’ two recent losing streaks. He’ll hope to break out of his funk tonight, but it’ll be a tall order vs. Marcus Camby, Joel Przybilla and Aldridge.

The dream of the 90s is alive in Portland. Luckily we’re not in Portland. Follow Lucas Klipsch on Twitter @LukeNukem317

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