Indiana (35-22, won last 1) vs. Cleveland (19-36, won last 1)
* 93.75 points per game (22nd in the NBA) vs. 99.73 points allowed per game (24th)
* 42.3% FG (29th) vs. 46.5% FG allowed (26th)
* 42.69 rpg (10th) vs. 42.60 rebounds allowed (20th)
* 20.40 apg (19th) vs. 15.29 TO pg (24th)
* 96.68 ppg (17th) vs. 94.02 points allowed (9th)
* 44.0% FG (22nd) vs. 43.5% FG allowed (8th)
* 42.23 rppg (8th) vs. 41.93 rebounds allowed (15th)
* 18.25 apg (30th) vs. 14.30 TO pg (13th)
PG-George Hill vs. Donald Sloan
SG-Paul George vs. Anthony Parker
SF-Danny Granger vs. Alonzo Gee
PF-David West vs. Antawn Jamison
C-Roy Hibbert vs. Tristan Thompson
Cleveland-Lester Hudson, Omri Casspi, Luke Walton, Semih Erden
Indiana-Tyler Hansbrough, Dahntay Jones, Leandro Barbosa, Lou Amundson
Injuries of note
Cleveland-Kyrie Irving (shoulder, out), Anderson Varejao (wrist, out)
Indiana-Darren Collison (groin, questionable)
The Cavaliers are a completely different team without star rookie point guard Kyrie Irving. The Rookie of the Year lock has given the Pacers fits this season, averaging 21 ppg against them in two contests, and leading the Cavs to a win in February. In Irving’s third career game it was his barely-missed floater in regulation that almost put the Pacers away, before Indiana dispatched the Cavs in overtime. His crossover and freakish speed off the dribble is a very real problem for Indiana’s point guards, so obviously him being out tonight makes Cleveland a lot more manageable. The Cavs are 2-2 over the last four without him, but have lost their only matchup against a playoff team (Milwaukee) and have yet to square up with a team as good as Indiana, sans Irving.
The Pacers are dealing with point guard issues of their own. Darren Collison missed the Toronto game on Monday as he rested a groin injury that coach Frank Vogel didn’t classify as serious. George Hill played admirably in his stead, giving more credence to the lingering sentiment that he should take over for Collison full time. Collison has disappointed as a facilitator since being traded to Indiana, but in his defense, Hill wasn’t much better passing the ball in his lone start, only totaling four assists (though he did a great job with his efficiency, didn’t turn over the ball and by and large is a superior defender). It would seem that, at least for now, Collison still has a grip on the starting job, as Vogel and company likely won’t make a move this close to the start of the playoffs.
Without Irving there probably isn’t a team with whom Indiana matches up better in the entire league than the Cavs. Anderson Varejao, the Cavs’ “x-factor” hustle man, and best rebounder, is also sidelined, leaving a medley of undersized, nondescript post players to bang with the Indiana bigs. Rookie Tristan Thompson has looked great in flashes, but is simply too small to play center, which is where he’s been forced to start recently. Stretch-four Antawn Jamison is still capable of piling up points, but is no longer the offensive dynamo he once was, and likely isn’t good enough to dictate a “small ball” defensive philosophy (that worked in spurts vs. New York and Oklahoma City recently) to the Pacers. Surprising bench guard Lester Hudson has been positively electric over the last three games, averaging 24.2 ppg and playing over 28 minutes off the bench in each contest. If Hill is forced into the starting lineup for Indiana tonight, the second unit, with Leandro Barbosa and A.J. Price, could be victimized by Hudson’s microwave scoring ability. All-in-all though, without Irving or Varejao, Cleveland is no match for Indiana.
Prediction: Pacers 103, Cavaliers 94
The Pacers have trouble closing out games with big wins; that’s the team’s biggest downfall at the moment. But after winning 5 of the last 6, and getting a rest day yesterday (followed by another tomorrow) Indiana should be ready and able to sweep the Cavs twice in three nights, starting with this game. Cleveland is more formidable than their record indicates when it is playing at full strength, but without Irving beating playoff teams is a tall order.
With the fantasy playoffs winding down you can still get some great value from a few Cavs, particularly Thompson, who’s averaging 11/8 with 0.8 blocks on 50% shooting as a starting center this year. Hudson can not only score, as mentioned, but he’s been piling up other stats too. In his three-game mini hot streak he’s averaging 4.2 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 2 steals, 3.2 3PTM and has missed only two of 20 free throw attempts. As soon as Irving returns he’ll likely fade back into obscurity. But he’s on a second straight 10-day contract, and is looking to prove his NBA worth, so if you need big scoring and some threes and a smattering of other guard numbers across the board, he’s actually got a chance to be pretty elite, at least for a few more games. It’s now or never, if you’re still in the playoffs, as this week may be your last chance to even make an add, and Hudson deserves some very real consideration.
George Hill of course has another chance for a boost if he starts again, but otherwise it’s par for the inconsistent course for your Pacers statistically.
Lucas Klipsch believes in justice. Follow him on Twitter @LukeNukem317