Feb 1, 2012; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert (55) shoots while defended by Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Kevin Love (42) in the fourth quarter at Target Center. Pacers won 109-99. Mandatory Credit: Greg Smith-US PRESSWIRE

Game Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves @ Indiana Pacers

Timberwolves (25-36, lost last 9) @ Pacers (38-22, won last 4)

Key Stats

Minnesota

 * 98.54 points per game (7th in the NBA) vs. 100.05 points allowed per game (26th)

* 43.6% FG (26th) vs. 45.4% FG allowed (19th)

* 43.8 rpg (3rd) vs. 43.13 rebounds allowed (21st)

* 19.57 apg (24th) vs. 15.3 TO pg (24th)

Indiana

Apr 14, 2012; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Danny Granger (33) dribbles the ball as Milwaukee Bucks forward Carlos Delfino (10) reaches in during the first quarter at the Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE

* 97.03 ppg (16th) vs. 93.96 points allowed (9th)

* 43.9% FG (22nd) vs. 43.5% FG allowed (8th)

* 43.5 rppg (6th) vs. 41.95 rebounds allowed (15th)

* 18.33 appg (30th) vs. 14.30 TO pg (13th)

Position-by-position Matchups

PG-J.J. Barea vs. George Hill

SG-Martell Webster vs. Paul George

SF-Wes Johnson vs. Danny Granger

PF-Derrick Williams vs. David West

C-Nikola Pekovic vs. Roy Hibbert

Key Reserves

Minnesota-Michael Beasley, Anthony Randolph, Anthony Tolliver, Malcolm Lee

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

Injuries of note

Minnesota-Luke Ridnour (ankle, out), Kevin Love (concussion, out), Darko Milicic (hamstring, out)

Indiana-Darren Collison (groin, day-to-day)

Breakdown:

The Pacers are one of the hottest teams in the NBA right now, and one of the least respected, as far as the title conversation goes. With Miami and Chicago as the odds-on favorites to meet in the Eastern Conference finals, it’s gone largely unnoticed in NBA circles that Indiana has won 13 of its last 17 games dating back to March 20. The Pacers are finally starting to “know themselves,” and are discovering an identity as one of the league’s toughest teams. On paper there’s nothing glamorous about the Pacers, but they have proven themselves fully capable of beating just about any NBA team on any given night, and have held onto leads, or come back from deficits, in admirable fashion, which is something this team has failed to do in the past.

Meanwhile the Minnesota Timberwolves are in tank mode. The team has lost 9 straight now, dropping out of the Western Conference playoff race in dramatic fashion. The Wolves have won only 7 games since the start of March, have no signature wins in that span (beating only two playoff teams) and due to injuries, seem to be largely shutting down for a chance at more lottery balls come this off-season. Minnesota’s best player, Kevin Love, is still experiencing concussion-like symptoms, and there are whispers that, with five games remaining, his year may be done. At full strength, with Love and fellow injured star Ricky Rubio, the Wolves are a chippy and formidable squad on the come up, but without them, and veterans Luke Ridnour and Darko Milicic, both out for tonight’s game, Minnesota’s top end talent and depth are both on life support.

The lack of respect for the Pacers league-wide, punctuated by some needless Twitter rapping by wannabe-big market star Brandon Jennings (who does his best “franchise player” impersonation, but rarely backs it up), has sent Indiana into a “nobody believes in us” motivational frenzy. As it stands, there are few teams that will have an easy time dispatching the Pacers on a given night, let alone a 7-game series. While they’re no lock for a first round playoff series win, the smart money is on Indiana fighting tooth and nail for a trip to the Eastern Conference finals, if not the NBA finals. Overachieving at the moment, Indiana, while by no means dominant in any conventional sense, has a very visible chip on its collective shoulder, and has every intention of steam-rolling any team they meet between now and the season finale with the hated Bulls.

Prediction: Pacers 99, Timberwolves 84

The T-Wolves are simply out-manned in this one. As I said before, at full strength Minnesota is a tough out, but they’re supremely hobbled, and have seemingly given up the fight. As long as Indiana stays focused and sticks with the game planning and hard work that has paid off over the last two wins, the team should pretty easily avoid a letdown tonight.

Fantasy Outlook:

It’s an interesting week for fantasy basketball. This week equates to week 17 in fantasy football, in that many leagues are no longer even playing. If you are, you’re playing for a title at the moment, and can find some hidden gems on the Minnesota bench in forwards Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph. If un-owned, both can provide a bit of scoring and rebounding, assuming you’re in a roster pinch.

Lucas Klipsch believes in justice. Follow him on Twitter @LukeNukem317

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