Opponent: Los Angeles Clippers
Starting Lineup: Patrick Beverley – Paul George – Moe Harkless – JaMychal Green – Ivica Zubac
Second Unit: Derrick Walton Jr. – Lou Williams – Jerome Robinson – Terance Mann – Montrezl Harrell
Leading Scorer: George: (23 PPG)
Leading Rebounder: Harrell (7.8 RPG)
Leading Assists: Williams (6.2 APG)
Biggest Challenge: Perimeter Defense
Even if Kawhi Leonard sits out, which Jovan Buha of the Athletic is reporting as the likeliest option, the Clippers still have one of the bests perimeter defenses in the NBA. George, Beverley, Harkless and even Green can all play good to elite perimeter defense. How much penetration will the Indiana Pacers’ ballhandlers get against those defenders? It will be tough. The Pacers will look to take advantage of some of their weak defensive spots, which includes Williams when he comes in off the bench and the center position. Zubac and Harrell are both solid defenders, but Domantas Sabonis has a size advantage against Harrell and a quickness advantage over Zubac.
Biggest Advantage: Depth
When fully healthy, the Clippers have plenty of depth to supplement their superstar talent. However, they are pretty beat up right now. It looks like Leonard is not going to play, and second-year guard Landry Shamet remains sidelined with an ankle injury. Even depth pieces like Rodney McGruder and Patrick Patterson are banged up. This has forced young players like Walton and Mann into minutes they probably aren’t ready for. Can some of Indiana’s experienced bench pieces take advantage of their lack of depth?
The X-Factor: Williams
Without Leonard, Williams becomes the team’s second option on offense, which he has shown he is fully capable of doing at a high level. The Williams/Harrell pick-and-roll combination off the bench has given teams issues for two years. The Clippers will need him to produce at a high level since they will likely be without their best player. However, he is also their biggest liability defensively, so the Pacers will look to get him in mismatches on the other end of the court. We could see a lot of points scored from both sides whenever Williams is in the game.
Whenever Leonard and George play together, the Clippers have looked like one of the best teams in the league, which was expected. However, we haven’t seen too many games with both of them together, and it looks like we aren’t going to see Leonard in this contest. That’s huge for the Pacers. The Leonard/George combination would have been tough for Jeremy Lamb and T.J. Warren. Now, one of them will likely draw Harkless, who is still a good defender, but nothing near Leonard’s level. And that’s a much easier assignment defensively. The biggest piece the Clippers are missing is a big, bruising center, which bodes well for Sabonis on offense. Indiana will need a big game out of him and the bench to get a victory today.