Opponent: Charlotte Hornets
Starting Lineup: Devonte’ Graham – Terry Rozier – Miles Bridges – P.J. Washington – Bismack Biyombo
Second Unit: Malik Monk – Dwayne Bacon – Cody Martin – Cody Zeller
Leading Scorer: Graham (19.0 PPG)
Leading Rebounder: Zeller (7.4 RPG)
Leading Assists: Graham (7.9 APG)
Biggest Challenge: No Malcolm Brogdon
The Indiana Pacers showed why Brogdon is their most important player in their loss to the Atlanta Hawks. The offense does not have the same movement and rhythm when he is out, and everybody’s efficiency falls when he is out of the lineup. It also hurts that T.J. McConnell is possibly out as well, since you would expect an uptick in minutes from him. Without Brogdon, the Pacers are nothing more than a middle of the pack team. Any road game is a tough game for a middle of the pack team.
Biggest Advantage: Pace
Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis have shown they are a solid frontcourt defensive paring, but the area they still struggle the most is in transition defense. Good thing the Hornets are dead last in the NBA in pace, according to ESPN’s Hollinger Team Statistics. Without worrying about getting back in transition, the duo should be able to stifle Charlotte in the half court, and they can even emphasize crashing the boards on offense to take advantage of their size mismatch over Charlotte’s smaller frontcourt.
The X-Factor: Aaron Holiday
Brogdon is out. McConnell is questionable. This is a huge test for Holiday. He’s made a major leap this season, but he oftentimes plays as a secondary ballhandler next to Brogdon or McConnell. His decision-making at the end of the game against the Hawks was questionable when he played the lead role. How will he fare against as the lead ballhandler for 30+ minutes? That will be a huge determining factor in this one.
The Hornets are better than people expected, and that can be largely attributed to Graham. Graham proved he had potential when he took the backup point guard spot from Tony Parker last year, but nobody expected him to be this good. He’s a Most Improved Player of the year candidate. His combination of scoring, shooting and playmaking is exactly what the team needed. Washington has also been a top-10 rookie this season and looks like he is going to carve a role with the organization. The Pacers can create some mismatches, particularly in the frontcourt and with Jeremy Lamb getting guarded by smaller defenders, but the loss of Brogdon and possibly McConnell is a lot as well. Add that with playing on the road and this seems like a good matchup.