The Pick: Bulls 95 – 92
I love the Pacers this year and haven’t been shy in confessing as much, but this is simply a tough spot. Indiana is on the second night of a back-to-back while the Bulls haven’t played since Saturday, which means there is a very good chance we see the best version of Derrick Rose that we’ve seen in quite some time. They played on back-to-back nights earlier this season, and their backcourt was torched by a nice but not great duo of Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon (combined for 49 points on 56 percent shooting from three and 10 rebounds). The Pacers were outscored by 160 percent in transition that night, a major red flag when opposing what we can only assume is a healthy Rose. The much improved Jimmy Butler (team leader in minutes played) gives Rose a running partner and provides scoring balance, something the Pacers have yet to find with three injuries (George Hill, Danny Granger, and Chris Copeland). The Bulls haven’t been great offensively, but they have looked reasonably good passing the ball (rank eighth in NBA in assists despite rankings 23rd in points), and that is how you must attack an elite defense. Chicago also boasts a strong defense, and while the Pacers have other capable options, Paul George (28.4 percent of the team’s points) figures to find the sledding tough with Luol Deng and Butler providing press coverage all night long.
My theory, keeping in mind that the Pacers played in Detroit last night, is that the front courts will roughly cancel one another out tonight (Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer vs. Roy Hibbert and David West), as will the superstars (Rose vs. George). I’ll take my chances with the Bulls’ swing players (Deng and Butler) over the Pacers’ remaining starters (Lance Stephenson and C.J. Watson), and with the injury bug affecting Indiana’s depth, the Bulls’ trio of reserves (Taj Gibson, Kirk Hinrich, and Mike Dunleavy) should also provide them with an advantage.
The Pick: Thunder 110 – 100
Much like Rose, Russell Westbrook is only going to get better as the season progresses. I’m not buying either one of these teams as defensive juggernauts, and honestly, I’m not buying the Mavericks as the offensive powerhouse that they have looked like two weeks into this season. Dallas is on the second night of a back-to-back while the Thunder had Monday and Tuesday off, not to mention their last game was played at home meaning they should be well rested for this one. I know the Mavericks looked good last night (scored 123 points and led by 30 at various points), but do you really think Monta Ellis is going to have his way with defensive specialist Thabo Sefolosha the same way he did Steve Blake/Xavier Henry/Steve Nash (30 points on 14 shots to go along with nine assists and only one turnover)? No way.
With the exception of the Houston Rockets (where James Harden burned the Mavs for 34 points), guards have handled the scoring when opposing Dallas. Jeff Teague (24 points and nine assists), Mike Conley (24 points and eight assists in a game in which the Mavs were on a back-to-back), and Nick Young (21 points on 12 shots) have gashed this defense, and it’s not unreasonable to say Westbrook at even 80 percent health is considerably more dangerous at the offensive end than that trio (they combined to average 32.8 points per game over their career, a number that Westbrook eclipsed in nine games last season and ten times in the strike shortened season before).
Who is going to guard Serge Ibaka? How about Kevin Durant? The Mavericks’ only chance is to out run and gun the Thunder, something I simply don’t think their roster is capable of. I’m not sure this game is ever close. All teams make a run sooner or later so it won’t be a 25 point spread, but I wouldn’t be shocked if the Thunder were not seriously threatened in the fourth quarter of this game.
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