The Pick: Thunder 101-92
Could this be a potential finals matchup? For my money, this is a matchup pairing the two teams that will be holding the top seed in each conference come playoff time, making this a statement game for both squads.
The Pacers are coming off of an emotional 111-100 win over the San Antonio Spurs last night, a game in which they led by 22 going into the final quarter. The fact that the Spurs crept back in the game is a big reason why I like the Thunder tonight: six Pacer players (the starters and Luis Scola) played 27-plus minutes. As Indiana preps for the fifth and final game of a road trip, it is very possible that we see some tired legs, and therefore not the elite level of defense we are accustomed to.
Also, while the Thunder are obviously a formidable opponent, the Pacers do have a home game against the Miami Heat on Tuesday, and while I’m not saying they are going to get caught looking ahead, I do feel that they are more likely to throw in the towel than they normally would be should this be a double-digit spread going into the fourth. Playing the Thunder in the postseason is a big maybe, but playing the defending champions is nearly a guarantee.
Oklahoma City’s record stands at 14-4 on this young season, but how impressive have they really been? They are a mere 5-4 against teams that I believe are any good, a trend I expect coach Scott Brooks to highlight as they prepare for this game.
The Thunder are about as tough to beat at home as any team in the NBA as their explosive offense takes it to another level, averaging 106 points on 47-percent shooting from the field. When playing at home, they have five players (Jeremy Lamb and Reggie Jackson in addition to their big three) that are averaging at least 10 points, with all of the perimeter players holding at least a 1.7 assist-to-turnover ratio.
We all know that the Pacers have an elite defense, but the long road trip and the fact that they rank below average in terms of opponent field goal attempts should be a red flag when facing an potent offense like that of the Thunder.
Fun Fact: The Pacers are 15-1 when they have the game’s leading scorer, but “only” 3-1 when the opponent has the leading scorer. The Thunder have had the game’s top scorer in 15 of 18 games this season and has the league’s top scoring duo.