The Indiana Pacers continue their up-and-down season after clawing their way back to an even .500 record. After a thorough demolishing by both the Warriors and Hawks, team captain Paul George called his first ever "players only" meeting to discuss the team's less-than-stellar start. Indiana then proceeded to crush the Brooklyn Nets and the Los Angeles Clippers without George. The win over LA was particularly impressive. The Clippers, a top-three defensive team in the league, were blown out of Bankers Life Fieldhouse, as Indiana held the Clippers to a paltry 75.1 points per 100 possessions after carrying a 114.9 mark through the season.
Indiana's record is now an even 9-9. They sit in the 7th seed in the ever-fluid Eastern Conference, and have just two games over the next eight days. With George expected to return from injury this week, what's in store for the revitalized Pacers as they try to start stacking wins?
Portland Trail Blazers
Wednesday, 30 November 2016 at 10:00 PM ET Away
The Pacers embark on their 5-game road trip with the first stop in Portland to face the 9-10 Trailblazers. The Blazers have lost 6 of their last 8 games and have momentarily slipped out of the Western Conference playoff picture, a half-game out of 8th place. Portland has seen a nosedive in terms of their defensive efficiency, currently ranked dead last in the NBA in defensive rating at 110.5 points per 100 possessions. The Blazers are missing their defensive-minded swingman Al-Farouq Aminu, who is still out with a calf injury he suffered against Suns earlier in November. With Aminu out, George will likely be guarded by a combination of Maurice Harkless and Jake Layman.
Portland might see Indiana's visit as a blessing, however, as the Blazers have won 7 home games in a row vs. the Pacers, and 6 of the last 8 overall meetings. They are still scoring at an efficient rate of 106.5 points per 100 possessions behind career seasons from superstar point guard Damian Lillard and third-year sharpshooter C.J. McCollum. Lillard is the Blazers' top scorer at 28.2 points per game, the sixth-best total in the NBA, while McCollum chips in an additional 22.3. The Pacers will need to harness the defensive intensity they displayed against Brooklyn and LA to slow Lillard and McCollum enough to force Portland to get points from other sources. An underrated matchup will be between Ed Davis and Thaddeus Young, the two teams' "hustle" players, and how often they can extend possessions with offensive rebounds. If this game gets into a shootout, rebounding and finishing possessions will ultimately decide the winner.
Los Angeles Clippers
Sunday, 4 December 2016 at 09:30 PM ET Away
The Clippers will be hungry for revenge after the drubbing they received in Indianapolis Sunday night. It's fair to say that Sunday's game was a bit of an outlier, as LA only shot 16.7% from three-point range despite a season average of 37.6%. Only three Clippers scored in double digits, and the only players to shoot above 50% were DeAndre Jordan and Luc Mbah-a-Moute, who combined for 5 total shots. Nothing about the way the Clips played is indicative of their entire season. This is still a team that is top-6 in the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency, they possess a dynamic frontcourt in Jordan and Blake Griffin who can both post double-doubles on any given night, and they have the best floor general in the league in Chris Paul.
The game on Sunday will be the first for LA after a draining 6-game road trip, but it will be the Clippers' 4th game in 6 nights. With plenty of rest days for Indiana, there might be a similar malaise on the court from the home team. Indiana has won 6 of the last 10 meetings, but this series has been relatively evenly-matched.