Opponent: Portland Trail Blazers
Starting Lineup: CJ McCollum - Gary Trent Jr. - Trevor Ariza - Carmelo Anthony - Hassan Whiteside
Second Unit: Anfernee Simons - Mario Hezonja - Nassir Little - Wenyen Gabriel - Caleb Swanigan
Leading Scorer: McCollum (21.5 PPG)
Leading Rebounder: Whiteside (14.2 RPG)
Leading Assists: McCollum (4.1 APG)
Biggest Strength: Isolation Offense
The Blazers rank 29th in the NBA in passes made per game, just ahead of the Houston Rockets. This would be a tough stat to overcome for most teams, but not the Blazers. That’s because they have some of the best isolation scorers in the entire league. Obviously, Damian Lillard leads the charge in that area, but even with him hurt, they still have McCollum and Anthony who thrive in that area. Even Simons and Whiteside will take their fair share of isolations (although, they aren’t nearly as effective). Despite passing so few, they still rank 9th in the league in scoring. One-on-one defense is going to be a key for the Indiana Pacers to stop.
Biggest Weakness: Bench Scoring
Injuries to Lillard, Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins and Rodney Hood have left Portland with absolutely no scoring off their bench. In fact, they rank dead last in the NBA in bench scoring. On top of that, the Pacers’ bench unit has solid defensive cohesion when all is healthy, making this an even tougher matchup for Portland’s second unit. Simons is their best chance at creating points, but he’s been inefficient and overall ineffective this year. These minutes can be where Indiana separates themselves.
The X-Factor: Anthony
Without Lillard, the Blazers need a second scorer outside of McCollum to generate offense. Whitened has been scoring at a decent clip this year, but he mostly benefits from other players generating the offense. Same with Ariza Portland needs Anthony to get hot. He could see a lot of Sabonis, which could turn out to be a good matchup for him on the perimeter.
The Pacers lost their last meeting with the Blazers, but it was the last game after a long west coast road trip and Lillard erupted for 50 points. Without him running the show, this matchup flips to Indiana’s favor. The biggest area of separation comes with the team’s benches. Indiana’s bench is one of the best in the league, while Portland’s is flat-out the worst. Can Anthony and McCollum build enough separation with the Pacers’ struggling starting lineup to allow their bench to hold on to it?