Mar. 14, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash (13) talks with teammate Marcin Gortat (4) while playing against the Utah Jazz during the first half at the US Airways Center. The Suns defeated the Jazz 120-111. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-US PRESSWIRE.

Game Preview: Phoenix Suns @ Indiana Pacers

Phoenix (23-24, lost last 2) @ Indiana (27-18, won last 2)

Key Stats

Phoenix

* 96.32 points per game (15th in the NBA) vs. 97.36 points allowed per game (19th)

* 45.4% FG (10th) vs. 451% FG allowed (19th)

* 41.75 rpg (20th) vs. 43.36 rebounds allowed (23rd)

* 22.55 apg (5th) vs. 14.43 TO pg (12th)

Indiana

* 95.5 ppg (17th) vs. 92.82 points allowed (8th)

* 43.2% FG (26th) vs. 43% FG allowed (7th)

* 43.43 rppg (5th) vs. 42.52 rebounds allowed (19th)

* 18.05 appg (30th) vs. 14.27 TO pg (9th)

Position-by-position Matchups

PG-Steve Nash vs. Darren Collison

SG-Jared Dudley vs. Paul George

SF-Grant Hill vs. Danny Granger

PF-Channing Frye vs. David West

C-Marcin Gortat vs. Roy Hibbert

Key Reserves

Phoenix-Robin Lopez, Markieff Morris, Shannon Brown, Sebastian Telfair

Indiana-Tyler Hansbrough, Leandro Barbosa, George Hill, Dahntay Jones, Lou Amundson

Injuries of note

Phoenix-None

Indiana-None

Breakdown:

Whew. The Pacers escaped what would have been a profoundly disappointing loss last night in Washington, D.C. to one of the league’s bottom feeders, the Wizards. Indiana was completely ineffective offensively in the first half, stepping into the third quarter in a 20-point hole. They chipped away at the lead, then took over late in the game to prevail by two. While road wins are nice no matter how they come, this effort was, at best highly discouraging. The transition acumen and accurate perimeter shooting that helped Indiana beat the Clippers two nights before was nowhere in sight last night, and George Hill, who was building an argument for a role in the starting lineup, completely disappeared. Luckily the team comes home for the second game of a back-to-back-to-back, and will get a Phoenix team on a skid, that while fighting for a playoff seed, currently has a losing record, and sits on the outside looking in.

From top to bottom the Pacers are simply deeper and more talented than Phoenix, especially after signing defensive ace KyryloFesenko, who, according to ESPN’s John Hollinger, “excells in every defensive metric.” Fesenko most likely won’t play tonight, and may only see spot minutes going forward (he is, by the way, coming off of a significant knee injury that kept him benched for much of last season), but his signing (and the trade for Leandro Barbosa) marks a commitment from Larry Bird to keep the Pacers’ roster stocked with fresh bodies at all  positions. Bird is setting this team up for a stretch run that will include only 13 more days of rest from here on out, compared to 21 games. Thankfully only eight of those games are on the road, and tomorrow night completes the team’s last triple-back-to-back of the season. As for tonight’s matchup, it will be the first for these two teams on the season. While the Suns are coming off of a rest day, this is game three of a four-game Eastern Conference road trip that already includes losses to Orlando and Miami over the last two games.

Roy Hibbert finally showed up big in his home town last night, putting up 19/9 on 8-14 shooting. But he, and the rest of the Pacers, underachieved at the foul line. While the team made it to the stripe five more times than its opposition, the Pacers shot an uncharacteristic 68%. On the season Indiana shoots a full 10% higher from the free throw line, good for 6th league-wide. A key for victory tonight will be Hibbert banging down low with stellar Suns big man Marcin Gortat (a former Dwight Howard practice opponent) and getting him in foul trouble early. Gortat has been one of the league’s best centers this year, averaging a 15.7/10 double-double, but he’s struggled on the glass lately, pulling down double-digit boards just once over the last eight games. After Gortat the Suns are pretty thin along the front-line; they start Channing Frye, a finesse stretch four, and while bench bigs Robin Lopez and rookie Markieff Morris are solid, they’re no match for Hibbert when he’s playing at his best. Indiana can also take advantage of its speed and youth along the perimeter. Collison, George, Hill, and Barbosa are fast and energetic enough to run circles around the Suns’ aging wing players. As always, containing Steve Nash remains a focal point for any Suns’ opponent; despite his struggles last night George Hill should see minutes vs. the Hall of Famer early and often. Nash was held to only two assists in Wednesday’s game, his lowest total since he passed for one in the second game of the season (in only 17 minutes), so he could be looking for a bounce-back effort tonight.

Prediction: Pacers 105, Suns 98

The Pacers are still a very frustrating and inconsistent basketball team that can, at any given point, win or lose, regardless of the opponent. This makes predicting victories very difficult. However, Phoenix’s bench will be out-classed by Indiana tonight, and its starting five is simply too old to hang with Indiana’s athletic core of young perimeter players. If the Pacers play even marginally-effective basketball tonight, a victory is more than attainable.

Fantasy Outlook:

Keep an eye on Gortat, who’s been up and down in the month of March. Other than him, and of course Nash, there are very few elite fantasy starters for the Suns. Same for Indiana. It’s time to start relying on Hibbert again, despite his recent struggles. If you’ve already made a speculative George Hill add, don’t drop him yet after last night’s stinker. He should be better against these Phoenix guards.

Why you askin’ all them questions, makin statements, assuming? Follow Lucas Klipsch on Twitter @LukeNukem317

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