How do you like that headline? I thought about saying “can clinch the division”, but I’m all about being bold. So tonight the Pacers get their opportunity to close out the division and win the title for the first time in a decade. I’m glad that the Bulls did win out last night, so that the Pacers can win tonight and enjoy the division title in front of the home group. Plus that does put them in a bit of a pressure situation so they can get focused, and take it to the Oklahoma City Thunder. I know they don’t care about the ESPN stuff as much as us fans do. But it would have been awesome to have a national television audience to witness this game. In any event, the Pacers and Thunder should be quite a game, and if the Pacers win, it will probably be a close one. I’ll say within five points. I think both teams will try to pull away at times, but this one will be back and forth. The Pacers will have to take advantage with their big men.
Dump the ball into Roy Hibbert, so he can continue to have the big games that he’s been having. Averaging 18 points over the past ten games is much better than I would anticipate Hibbert doing. I’ve always thought if he got 12-15 points a game, the Pacers would be fine with his production. Throw in a 20 point game once or twice a month, even better. But with the confidence he’s playing with, if he can continue this pace, the Pacers should be in excellent position. Don’t forget about the other man down low, David West. I’ve already awarded him my Most Valuable Player award, and feel like he’s starting to come back around after missing some games with a back injury. Those back injuries are tricky because you don’t know when they could flare up again. West is going to be needed for the playoff run, so if he’s feeling the pain again, I say sit him and make sure he’s as healthy as possible.
The big match up to watch is Kevin Durant and Paul George. I think this is just another game that George can truly test himself to see how far he’s come. George is playing much better since that first meeting, and I expect him to really step it up tonight. I think he likes this opportunity to guard the best player on the other side. I could see Durant wanting to step up as well because I still don’t know where his defensive game is. If he can lock down on George, people might see that side of him we haven’t seen. I think this season we have seen the more competitive side of Durant especially since he just earned his first technical foul of his career. I’m not saying you have to go out with a vengeance every game. But Michael Jordan just had it turned on all the time. Kobe Bryant had it turned on all the time. Lebron James is finally in that mode. If Durant gets into that mode, and how he performed in the playoffs last season, just watch out for how good he can be.
You also can’t lose sight of Russell Westbrook, who is one of the few great point guards, will be a tough cover for George Hill. Hill has shown his defensive side from time to time, and tonight should be a case where he needs to really bring it. He struggles with these elite type guys, and if he can slow down, then the Pacers will be all right.
It’s all about the Pacers’ defensive slowing down the offensive onslaught of the Thunder. The Thunder average 106 points per game. If the Pacers can keep this around 90 points, they will win the game. But if it gets over that, the title division might have to wait till tomorrow. I’ll stick to my first prediction and say no matter what Pacers win. Pacers clinch the Central Division. Hopefully get a game in the Eastern Conference standings, and head off to Washington D.C. feeling good about where they are. If not, watch out Wizards tomorrow’s game could get ugly.