With both teams fighting for playoff positioning, the Indiana Pacers prepare to travel to Quicken Loans Arena to take on the Cleveland Cavaliers this evening (7pm ET, Monday).
Despite maintaining their standing as the top team and the only 40-win team in the Eastern Conference, the Cavaliers have been in a mini slump recently, dropping three of their last four against the Detroit Pistons, Toronto Raptors and on Sunday, the Washington Wizards. The most recent loss, in which LeBron James (pictured) did not play as the team opted to rest him, saw the Cavaliers lose by 14 points, their most lopsided defeat since they played the Golden State Warriors back in mid-January.
The Pacers meanwhile, who are currently holding on to sixth place in the standings, just two games behind the Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat who are tied for fourth, also dropped three of their last four and four of their last seven. This includes the team’s most recent game against the Portland Trailblazers, which they lost by nine points.
The Cavaliers are eight-point home favorites with the top USA sportsbooks. This isn’t too surprising, although given the way the last two contests between these two teams have ended, the point spread is going to be one to follow, but more that with my betting picks at the end of this preview.
The Last Time We Met
It was February 1st, nearly a month ago, that these two teams met for the second time this season. Their first meeting, which was decided by just four points, saw the Cavaliers overcome superb outings by Pacers’ stars, Monta Ellis (25 points, five rebounds) and Paul George (32 points, 11 rebounds). James led the way for the Cavs with 29 points and was backed up with 22 points from Kevin Love.
When the teams met the second time, the Pacers’ loss was a little bit tougher to swallow. The teams played a tightly-contested game all the way until the end. It was in overtime that Kyrie Irving took over, scoring eight points in the final five minutes, leading to the Cavs’ five point victory.
The Pacers had a chance to win in regulation but Ellis missed a midrange jumper at the buzzer after struggling the whole night, going just 5-of-18 from the floor and just 1-of-8 from beyond the arc. George also struggled to get any offense going, managing just 11 points.
Just like the first time, Cleveland won the battle of the boards but barely, despite Indiana beating them by seven on the offensive glass. The teams’ tied with just 16 turnovers but the Pacers allowed the Cavaliers to shoot 50 percent and 31.8 percent from the three point line.
Come tonight, this game will once again likely be decided on the boards, as Indiana’s defense will need to play much better than it has lately and better than it did in the previous two contests. Defending the three point line will also be critical as in their past three losses, the Pacers have allowed opponents to show 56 percent from behind the arc. If this trend continues against the Cavaliers, it could be a long night for Indiana as Cleveland ranks eighth in the NBA in three-point percentage.
Winning the Battle of the Back-to-Back
Both Cleveland and Indiana are coming off of games Sunday and while the two teams share their schedule in common, that is about the only thing they share about winning outcomes in the second game of a back-to-back.
Cleveland, which will have James back after his day of rest, are 8-4 on the second end of back-to-back games. More than that however, the team is actually better defensively with no rest, allowing an Eastern Conference best 93.2 points per game compared to 98.2 with a day or more of rest. However, any fatigue the team may suffer with comes on the offensive side of the ball as Cleveland averages just 96.7 points playing without rest, a pretty significant dip from the 104.4 they average otherwise.
When it comes to the three point shooting of which the Cavaliers rank ninth in the NBA, shooting just a tick under 36 percent, the team woefully struggles without rest. On the games in the backend of a back-to-back, the Cavs are actually shooting an NBA sixth worst, a big part of this owed to JR Smith’s drop-off (31.9 percent with no rest, 43.1 with time off).
The Pacers meanwhile are 3-8 on the second end of back-to-back games with their biggest issue being on the defensive side of the ball. With no rest, the Pacers allow over 106 points per game compared to 99.2 percent when given at least a day of rest in between two contests.
It would seem Indiana is in a better position to win the second game of the back-to-back but given said game is in Cleveland, this may go right out the window. The Cavaliers have won 13 straight at home against the Pacers when James has been in the lineup, which dates back to his second year in the NBA.
Our Preview’s Indiana Pacers at Cleveland Cavaliers Betting Picks
The Cavaliers have been one of the best home teams in the league almost every year James has been on the team. This year is no different. The Cavs really do not lose at home, especially not against the Pacers.
Indiana is in a tough position right now and desperately needs the win to stay in the playoff race. Cleveland on the other hand, holds just a two game lead over the Raptors and needs the win to stay atop the race in the East.
Given the home field advantage has proved fruitful for Cleveland in the past and the fact that James will be in the lineup, doing so with an extra day’s rest, all signs point to the Cavaliers getting the win on the moneyline. However, these two teams play competitively each time they face each other so expect the point spread to fall below the eight projected by the sportsbooks.