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One More: Trail Blazers Conclude Long Road Trip In Indiana

12/05/12
  1. Written by: erikgundersen

    One more game. One more game to end a road trip that featured moments both to  remember and to forget. One more game to build a winning streak. One more game before returning home. That's what stands in the Trail Blazers' (8-10) way as they take on the Indiana Pacers (9-9) in the final game of their season-long seven-game road trip. The game will tip-off at 4PM and will be shown on CSNNW. It can also be heard on 1190 AM and 102.3 FM.

    •    Portland's legs and minds are tired but the Pacers are entering the always dangerous waters of the second night of a back-to-back. The Pacers have been on a road trip, that included three stops in California (Lakers, Kings, Warriors) and one stop in nearby Chicago on Tuesday night. The Pacers went 3-1 in the four road games including a hard-fought win against the Bulls where they needed a monster performance from Paul George (34 points, nine rebounds, three steals, two blocks) and a late block by Roy Hibbert on a drive by Chicago's Luol Deng to finish off the Bulls. Portland is coming off not one, but two consecutive overtime wins including Monday night's historic 18-point comeback. This game presents a test more mental than physical for both teams.
        
    •    Nicolas Batum against Paul George is the match-up to watch. With both players all of a sudden being asked more by their teams this year, both have emerged in their own ways as leaders. Batum, by virtue of finally being the unquestioned starting small forward, has grown into a more assertive role. George, due to an injury to Indiana's leading scorer from last year (Danny Granger), has had to do the same. Both are very good defenders and will present major challenges to each other's ability to score. Offensively, both have been asked to do more. Batum and George have both increased their minutes, shot attempts, points, rebounds and assists per game. However, despite the extra minutes and the demand to take more shots, Batum's True Shooting percentage (a stat that combines field goal percentage, free-throw percentage and three-point percentage) has only dropped .4 percentage points (57.5 to 57.1) while George's has dropped by five and a half percentage points (44.0 to 38.5). Both players are having "breakout" seasons this year and both players take their team's to another level when they play at their best.
        
    •    Despite the fact that George carried the Pacers in Chicago, the Pacers' true identity has been made in the post behind Roy Hibbert and David West. Before Tuesday's game against Chicago, according to Synergy Sports Technology, the Pacers derive their offense from post-ups on 18 percent of their possessions, the highest percentage in the NBA. They work the ball into Hibbert or West with regularity, even though Hibbert's field goal percentage has dropped by 10 percentage points despite an increase of only .4 field goal attempts per game. West's percentage from the field has actually gone up slightly despite averaging nearly four more shots per game. It will be interesting to see how the Trail Blazers attack this defensively. The Pacers are in the bottom-five in the league in three-point percentage, so it wouldn't be a surprise if the Trail Blazers throw a little zone at the Pacers interior oriented offensive attack. LaMarcus Aldridge, who had his most complete performance of the year against Charlotte (25 points, 13 rebounds, five assists, three blocks), will need to put together another great performance against Indiana's talented front for Portland to escape Indy with the win.
        
    •    Run, run, run! The Trail Blazers don't play at one of the fastest pace's in the league (19th out of 30 teams) but they are one of the most efficient teams in transition in the league, ranking 6th in points per possession on such plays according to Synergy Sports Technology. With a rim protector like Roy Hibbert, Portland needs to run when they can. Indiana plays at the fifth slowest pace in the league, but they are also very disciplined at getting back defensively (first in points per possession allowed in transition). Hibbert has improved as a rim protector (averaging a career-high 3.1 blocks per game heading into Tuesday, 2nd in the NBA) and as a pick and roll defender in recent years. The Trail Blazers have been excellent in the pick and roll offensively, but you don't want to let the 2nd best defense in the NBA get set if you have a choice. Stotts has always encouraged his team to push the pace but it must start on the defensive end. Indiana's offense has been anemic (29th in offensive efficiency) so them being five-hundred is a testament to their tough defense. Even though Portland's offense (12th in the NBA) has been good, they need to get easy buckets when they can and attempt to put Indiana on their heels so that they don't fall into the bad habits of taking standstill or contested step-back jumpers that have plagued them at times during the road trip. If all else fails, Portland would be wise to get the ball to Aldridge in the post as he has averaged 23.6 points and 9.4 rebounds over the last five games.

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