Indiana Pacers (3-0) at Detroit Pistons (2-1)
UPDATE: George Hill OUT for tonight’s game, and C.J. Watson will get the start in his place.
Tonight marks the Indiana Pacers’ second road contest of this young season. The first challenge came on October 30 when Indiana spoiled a new era in New Orleans professional basketball, defeating the renamed Pelicans in their home opener under new ownership. A big difference between New Orleans and tonight’s opponent, the Detroit Pistons, is experience.
Detroit (2-1) welcomes the Pacers (3-0) with an entirely new starting lineup, new coaching staff and a talented young bench. Chauncey Billups has returned to lead the Pistons’ backcourt along with the versatile and quick Brandon Jennings. Jennings, acquired from the Milwaukee Bucks this past offseason, is making his second start for Detroit after recovering from a hairline fracture in his jaw. First-year head coach Maurice Cheeks also presents Indiana with a major challenge in the frontcourt. Josh Smith, another one of Detroit’s offseason acquisitions (via Atlanta), starts at his normal small forward position. Youngsters Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond round out the big men at power forward and center, respectively.
The Indiana Pacers will see a very young bench tonight at The Palace of Auburn Hills. There is plenty of talent in veteran guards Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum. Stuckey and Bynum represent the biggest threats off the bench, but the matchup problems go both ways. With Lance Stephenson and CJ Watson leading the charge for the Pacers’ second unit, Stuckey and Bynum will have a tough time guarding the bigger, stronger Stephenson and Watson brings excellent defense and three-point shooting to the hardwood.
Other notables off Detroit’s bench – Kyle Singler and Jonas Jerebko – boast youth and inexperience. They bring more athleticism than Pacers bigs Ian Mahinmi, Luis Scola and Chris Copeland, but Scola and Mahinmi are bigger, stronger and rebound much better. It will be interesting to watch the second units compete in the first matchup between these two squads this season.
Detroit is most likely competing for third place in the Central Division and potentially a low seed come playoff time – although it is much too early for playoff chatter. Indiana, coming off an Eastern Conference Finals showdown with the Miami Heat, is off to a fast start and remains the only undefeated team in the NBA following the Houston Rockets’ loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. After three days rest, it will be very important for the Pacers to get off to a fast start against the Pistons. Equally important for the blue and gold will be a strong finish. If the Pacers are holding a lead, they will not want to let Detroit hang around with Billups, Jennings and Smith all capable of hitting big shots in crunch time.
Paul George will be presented with the biggest challenge tonight of slowing Josh Smith, just as he did in the first round of last year’s playoffs. I would envision David West getting some of the defensive workload against Smith when George is not on the floor. I also expect for George to continue to score in the 20s and help out West and Roy Hibbert on the boards. Stephenson will play a vital role on offense tonight, as Vogel should be asking him to continually attack the basket. George Hill is out again tonight for Indiana with a hip injury, but remains day-to-day. Watson will start in his place for the second consecutive game.
It will be a tough matchup tonight for the Pacers and I would expect a physical game from Detroit. Indiana knows every game counts if they want home court advantage throughout the playoffs. In a divisional battle on the road, I’ll take the Pacers by eight points tonight. Indiana will get off to a faster start, and the inexperience of Detroit’s big men and bench players will prove costly down the stretch. West has his first big game of the season going up against a young Greg Monroe.