The (38-10) Indiana Pacers will host the (34-14) Portland Trail Blazers in a battle between two of the NBA’s best teams (7.30pm ET, Friday). In fact, this could very well be a preview of the Finals as both of these teams have the talent and potential to win the championship this year.
The Age of the Pacers
Move over Miami Heat, the Indiana Pacers are the new best team in basketball. Last year’s Eastern Conference Finals between the Heat and Pacers was the most highly contested series’ since the Dallas Mavericks defeated Miami in the 2011 NBA Finals. Miami emerged victorious in the competitive and entertaining seven game series en route to the NBA Finals and their second consecutive championship.
In 2014, these two teams are expected to meet again but this time, the advantage skews toward the Pacers.
Boasting their own “Big Three” of George Hill (10.5 PPG), Roy Hibbert (12.2 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 2.4 BLKPG) and Paul George (22.7 PPG, 6.4 RPG), the Pacers have roared out to the NBA’s best record this season. They aren’t a very flashy team like Miami though and have found most of their success as a result of their defense.
The Pacers are a smash mouth type defensive unit that is constantly jarring under the basket. They are always active, never give up on a play and give a new meaning to the term physicality. As a result, they have been the league’s best when it comes to points allowed at just 90.2 a game. The Pacers are also sixth best in the NBA in rebounds per game at 45.5 which is less than one REB a game behind the league leading Portland Trail Blazers.
Offensively, the Pacers rank just 20th out of 30 NBA teams in points (98.4) and assists (20.5) per game. These numbers are pretty low but considering Indiana still finds ways to outscore their opponents that is really all that matters.
The Rise of Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge and the Trail Blazers
The Pacers are the best in the Eastern Conference and while not the best in the West, the Trail Blazers have been thriving and competing in the much tougher conference. Currently, third, Portland is on their way up and is one of the better young teams in the league.
After losing their season opener, Portland blazed out to a 25-6 record in their next 31 games. In the months of November and December, the Trail Blazers were the best team in the NBA. A big reason for this success comes as a result of the seven year veteran LaMarcus Aldridge and the sophomore Damian Lillard.
The two scorers in Aldridge and Lillard have clicked considerably this year and as a result have been one of the best duos in the league. Aldridge is enjoying his best season in his career by a long shot averaging 24.3 PPG and 11.6 RPG. He was named a reserve on the Western Conference All-Star Team. Lillard is also littering the box score this year, averaging 20.7 PPG and 5.7 APG. Last year’s Rookie of the Year, Lillard is also headed to the All-Star Game as a member of the sophomore team for the Sophomore-Rookie Challenge.
While these two have been formidably leading the charge, it is the entire Pacers starting five that has spurred this team to its remarkable level of success. From top to bottom, the pairing of Lillard, Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez has been the best in the league. They have given Indiana a near perfect offensive balance and that shows in the numbers this team has been able to put up this year.
Behind the success of their starters, the Trail Blazers find themselves leading the NBA in both points (108) and rebounds per game (46.4). They are also third in assists per game (24.2).
These two championship hopefuls have met just once this year back in December and it left the Trail Blazers victorious. George led all scorers with 43, Hibbert had a game-high 14 rebounds and Hill paced all players with 11 assists. Despite the impact of Indiana’s “Big Three,” and despite being outrebounded and out-assisted by the Pacers, the balanced attack of Portland won out. Aldridge and Lillard both contributed 20+ points apiece and Matthews was also in double digits with 15.
That meeting occurred when both teams were tops of their respective conferences and it lived up to the hype. The matchup on Friday is expected to be of the same quality and the same type of playoff atmosphere.
Pacers vs Trail Blazers Betting Picks
It is the Super Bowl all over again as the top offensive team in the Trail Blazers will go head-to-head against the top defensive team in the Pacers. In the NFL’s biggest game of the season, defense won out and in a big way but, in a more compacted NBA game, will the same result occur here?
The answer is yes. Take the Pacers -6 on the spread @ odds of -110 with BetOnline and expect their defense to get it done on their home courts. The team has been hot lately and the Trail Blazers have cooled since their hot start.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.