With just a week or so remaining before the NBA All-Star break, the (35-15) Cleveland Cavaliers head to Bankers Life Fieldhouse for game three of a four game road trip, against the (29-22) Indiana Pacers in a Central Division showdown (7pm ET, Wednesday).
Sitting in first place in the Eastern Conference, the Cavaliers are coming off their biggest win of the season, a 140-135 defeat of the (30-21) Washington Wizards. The game went to overtime and saw LeBron James score 32 points with a career high 17 assists. It was the third win in a row for Cleveland, who are undefeated in February, following a month that saw them win just seven of their 15 games.
The Pacers, who are holding down the sixth seed in the conference and riding a seven game winning streak, most recently defeated the (30-23) Oklahoma City Thunder 93-90 in a game that very much had a playoff feel and atmosphere. Now just one game separates the Pacers from overtaking the Wizards for the fourth seed.
This will be the second time this season the two former playoff rivals will meet with Indiana winning the first contest, also at home, by 10 points in mid-November. James did not play in that game as the Cavs opted to rest their star on the second game of a back-to-back. The four-time MVP is expected to play in this game, marking the first time in the last three trips to Banker’s Life, that James will be suiting up and on the court. That is a factor this preview will have to consider when we conclude with our betting picks and predictions.
Game of Threes?
Looking solely at the Eastern Conference, which is pretty definitively the worse of the two, Cleveland leads their 14 opponents in points per game, with an average of 110.6, compared to just 105.5 for Indiana, which is good enough for sixth.
Going through the rest of the offensive categories however, the discrepancies between the two teams are minor. Both the Pacers and the Cavs average just under 40 made field goals per game and both are just over 46% from the floor, with the Pacers owning a slight .2 percent edge. Both make just over 18 free throws a game, with Indiana shooting 81.2 percent from the line, which is the second best in the NBA.
Where the Cavaliers would seem to have a decent advantage, even more so than in the points per game race, is when it comes to three point shooting.
The Cavs are the best from beyond the arc in the conference and third best in the NBA, thanks in large part to Channing Frye, Kyle Korver and Iman Shumpert, all shooting over 40 percent. Among just the Eastern Conference, the Cavaliers have six players in the top-25 and three in the top-10, with Frye’s 42.3 percent good enough for third best.
The team as a whole attempts, on average, just under 34 threes per game while being successful on about 13, which is a three-point shooting percentage of 38.6. Again, this is the best in the East, over 1.4 percentage points better than second place. On average around the league, only the Houston Rockets attempt and make more threes.
Contrast this with the Pacers. Indiana’s offense attempts the second fewest threes per game at just 22.6, and their defense isn’t much better, allowing opponents to shoot the second highest percentage in the league at 34.5 percent.
The moral of the story is, if Cleveland can make this a game of threes and rely on what has been their bread and butter all season long, then Indiana are going to have a tough time stopping them and an even tougher time keeping up with them.
Our Preview’s Cavs at Pacers Betting Picks & Predictions Verdict
The Pacers are a very well-rounded gritty team and they showed that Monday night against the Thunder. They struggled offensively, especially in the first half as both Paul George and Myles Turner had poor performances, contributing to the team shooting just 37.9 on the night. But in the end, Indiana still managed to pull off the victory, thanks to hard-nosed defensive play after halftime. The Pacers held the Thunder to just 38 second half points, allowing their opponents to shoot just over 30 percent from the floor. They also forced OKC into 11 second half turnovers.
This is the style of basketball that suits Indiana well, not shoot-outs like the Cavaliers just got into against the Wizards. Cleveland is a team built with shooters, guys who can find open looks in the perimeter, in the paint and as demonstrated, beyond the arc. Offensively, they aren’t remarkably better than the Pacers when it comes to shooting prowess but they are probably the ones who can sustain it longer if the situation called for it.
The X-factor here is simple, it’s James. He and the Cavaliers have been mired in some controversy lately due to statements and comments made by both sides. Losing tends to create problems but winning solves them. So far, in February, the Cavs have been doing nothing but getting those Ws and on the road against the Pacers, with James back in the line-up for the first time in over a year against this team, expect Cleveland to do it again. That’s not to count out the Pacers though, as they ride a very impressive seven-game winning streak.
- This is really a tough one to call but I’d recommend placing your bet with the Cavaliers -3pts on the spread @ -110 with BetOnline. The Pacers have won 12 of their last 13 home games against the Cavs, but only one of these featured James. If he plays the way he did on Monday night, Cleveland won’t have anything to worry about.
- As for the total points for the game, of the top sportsbooks, only BetOnline has betting lines on this game as we write this preview, but their over / under looks appealing at under 215.5pts @ -110 odds.