Opponent: Cleveland Cavaliers
Starting Lineup: Darius Garland-Collin Sexton-Cedi Osman-Kevin Love-Tristan Thompson
Second Unit: Matthew Dellavedova-Kevin Porter Jr.-Jordan Clarkson-Larry Nance Jr.
Biggest Challenge: The Frontcourt
With the injury to Myles Turner, the Indiana Pacers are starting an undersized frontcourt with T.J. Warren at power forward. The Cavaliers’ biggest strength is their frontcourt with their three-man rotation of Thompson, Love and Nance. Love is their best player, Thompson is having a resurgence this year and Nance gives energy off the bench. In their win against the Pacers earlier this year, the trio combined for 55 points and 30 rebounds. Domantas Sabonis should match up well with Thompson, but Warren gives up a lot of size to Love and Goga Bitadze may struggle physically against Nance.
Biggest Advantage: Malcolm Brogdon
Cleveland’s backcourt has a lot of potential, but they are young and struggle defensively, especially against bigger guards. Insert Brogdon. The 6’5’’ point guard recorded 30 points and 10 assists last game, and Cleveland didn’t have much of an answer to stopping him. Sexton is a better defender than Garland, but they may use him more on Jeremy Lamb. Either way, Brogdon should be able to continue his breakout season.
The X-Factor: Bitadze? (*shivers*)
The Pacers are desperate for Bitadze to give quality minutes off the bench. Without Turner, the Pacers are down to just Sabonis and Bitadze at center, and they don’t even have much of an emergency option after them. Nate McMillan needs to do his best to align Bitadze’s minutes with Nance, who is somewhat limited offensively. It will go a long way toward a win if Bitadze can hold his own in short spurts to give Sabonis rest.
The Cavs have been better than expected to start the year. They have a nice balance of young, promising players (Garland, Sexton, Porter) and seasoned NBA veterans (Love, Thompson, Nance, Dellavedova). The biggest surprise has been Thompson, who looks like he is setting himself up for a better-than-expected contract next year in free agency with how he has been playing. The jury is still out on the Garland-Sexton backcourt, especially defensively. I’m not sure that can work long term size-wise. The Pacers will look to use their backcourt size as an advantage, which will surely lead to some big days from Brogdon and Lamb. Can Warren and Bitadze hold up against bigger bodies down low? That will be a big thing to watch.