Opponent: Utah Jazz
Starting Lineup: Mike Conley - Donovan Mitchell – Bojan Bogdanovic – Royce O’Neale – Rudy Gobert
Second Unit: Emmanuel Mudiay – Joe Ingles – Jeff Green – Tony Bradley
Leading Scorer: Mitchell (25.6 PPG)
Leading Rebounder: Gobert (14.1 RPG)
Leading Assists: Conley (4.6 APG)
Biggest Challenge: The Great Wall of Gobert
The two-time defending Defensive Player of the Year does two things at an elite level: protect the rim and rebound. He hasn’t missed a beat to start the year in those areas, which is why they have one of the best defense in the NBA. A team like the Indiana Pacers, who doesn’t shoot a lot of three-pointers, may struggle offensively against a team with an elite rim protector. The Pacers will need to get hot from the mid-range, which admittedly has been a strength of the team this year, in order to keep their offense going.
Biggest Advantage: Bench
Ingles can play and would be a starter on most teams in the NBA, but the rest of their bench is average to below average. Mudiay is inefficient. Green can defend, rebound and handle the ball at a decent level, but his lack of outside shooting makes him a liability overall on offense. And Bradley is one of the worst centers in the league who gets consistent minutes. A Pacers’ bench unit that has started coming into its own should be able to handle this group.
The X-Factor: Ingles
Despite having a bad bench, Ingles can still play at a high level. He hasn’t played his best basketball of his career, but he’s coming off a season where he averaged 12.1 PPG, 4 RPG and 5.7 APG on .565 eFG%. Even though his numbers are down this year in his bench role, he’s still shown flashes of being his old self. Which Ingles will we see? Indiana’s bench has a lot of guys to throw at him, and no one else strikes fear off their bench, so they can put all their attention toward him. If he can’t get it going, the Pacers should be able to go on some big runs with their bench.
The additions of Conley and Bogdanovic were supposed to flip the script for the Jazz and make them an offensive juggernaut, while letting some of their elite defense go. Seventeen games into the season, they have the fourth best scoring defense and the seventh worst scoring offense in the league. They’ve still managed to go 11-6 to start the year, and it is logical that are simply getting to know each other with so many new faces on the team. The defensive success can be largely attributed to Gobert, who remains one of the league’s best rim protectors. The struggles of Conley and Ingles are two of the biggest reasons for their offensive woes. What kind of showing will we see from them? That will go a long way to deciding this game.