Pacers vs. Nuggets preview: Nuggets east meet Pacers west?

USA TODAY Sports

Are the Pacers and Nuggets - two small market teams built around youth and depth - mirror images of each other?

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2012/2013 NBA Regular Season: Game 46

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26- 18 (10-15 on the road)

0-1

27-18 (17-3 at home)
January 28, 2013 - 7:00 PM (MT)
Pepsi Center - Denver, Colorado
TV Altitude / 950 AM / 104.3 FM The Fan
Probable Starters
George Hill PG Ty Lawson
Lance Stephenson SG Andre Iguodala
Paul George SF Danilo Gallinari
David West PF Kenneth Faried
Roy Hibbert C Kosta Koufos
Notes
Indy Cornrows Blogs Denver Stiffs
Danny Granger (out) Injuries None
Including their ABA battles, the Nuggets and Pacers have won 84 games apiece against each other. Stat The Nuggets haven't lost to the Pacers at Pepsi Center since 2007.

At lot of fans and pundits alike look at the Denver Nuggets and Indiana Pacers and see a lot of similarities. Not only are both teams of the "small market" variety, but they are both competing competitively in their respective conferences thanks to a combination of youth and depth, with no superstars to be found. Sure, the Pacers have one All-Star in Paul George, but George's 17.4 ppg and 7.7 rpg wouldn't get him a sniff at the All-Star Game if he played in the Western Conference.

And in addition to the assortment of young talent leading the way, both the Nuggets and the Pacers are dominant at home - each having lost just three times on their home floors - and are 10-15 on the road. This leaves the Pacers at 26-18 (and fifth overall in the Eastern Conference) heading into Monday's contest at Denver while the Nuggets are 27-18 (and essentially fifth overall in the Western Conference).

But are the Nuggets and Pacers really that similar? Upon closer inspection, not so much.

The Pacers have earned their 26 wins and home dominance thanks to defense. They're second-best in the NBA by holding opponents to only 89.9 ppg. The Nuggets, meanwhile, are an NBA seventh-worst by giving up 100.5 ppg. Conversely, the Nuggets are the fourth-best scoring outfit in the NBA, averaging 103.6 ppg while the Pacers are literally the worst-scoring team in the NBA, mustering only 91.4 ppg (tied with the lowly Washington Wizards).

So while the Pacers are winning games by eking out low-scoring, painful-to-watch, defensive battles the Nuggets are winning by running up the score. Especially lately as the Nuggets have put up 121 points twice in their last three games, all victories.

Which team's style of play wins out will determine the outcome on Monday night. When these teams met up in Indianapolis in early December, the Nuggets completed one of their finest victories of the season with a 92-89 grinder thanks largely to exceptional bench performances from JaVale McGee (9-9 shooting in that game, no joke) and Andre Miller. In that game, Nuggets starters Ty Lawson, Andre Iguodala, Danilo Gallinari and Kenneth Faried combine to make just 9 of 39 field goal attempts. It was as if the Pacers defense focused solely on the Nuggets starters and forgot about their bench altogether.

Leaving that December game with 10 wins and 10 losses apiece, both the Nuggets and Pacers have been on a tear since despite some ugly losses (to Minnesota and Washington for Denver, to Orlando for Indiana) and now seem primed to be a difficult playoff out for whomever they face in the first round come April.

Three things to look for in this game ...

1) Paul George vs. Danilo Gallinari
Gallo seems to have cemented himself as the go-to guy for Denver down the stretch in close games, and the first time All-Star George will be tasked with stopping him. On the flip side, Gallo must look askance at the Eastern Conference and wonder if he, too, could be an All-Star if he still played out there. Watching these two small forwards go head-to-head should be fun for the fans.

2) A good offense beats a good defense
The Pacers will do everything they can to slow down the tempo and hold the Nuggets to the low-90s. The problem is that when given some rest - and having been at home for several days - the Nuggets are known for huge scoring outbursts. The Pacers won't win a shootout, but they won't be able to control the Nuggets tempo for 48 minutes either.

3) Post-contract disappointments
Pacers center Roy Hibbert was an All-Star last year and was rewarded with a max contract that he hasn't come close to living up to this season. The same can be said for Lawson, who wasn't maxed out (thank god) but received a hefty contract that he hasn't delivered on. And yet both the Pacers and Nuggets seem to go as Hibbert and Lawson go, respectively.

Scouting the Pacers

Pacers Non-Stiffs

-Paul George: George's production may not be All-Star worthy in the west, but that doesn't take away from the fact that he has improved his game greatly and was deserving of an Eastern Conference All-Star selection. Impressive for a third-year player who played college ball at Fresno State.

-George Hill: A former backup in San Antonio, Hill is having his best NBA season ever to the tune of 14.7 ppg to go along with 4.4 rpg and 4.9 apg.

Pacers Stiffs

-Tyler Hansbrough: It's not Hansbrough's pigmentation that's landed him here, it's the fact that his production has gone in reverse since entering the NBA four seasons ago and he's now averaging a career-low 6.4 ppg.

-Roy Hibbert: How's that max contract working out? The 7'2" Hibbert has connected on just 41.8% of his field goal attempts this season (but he is blocking an impressive 2.7 shots per game).

Final Thought

Despite those inexcusable losses to Minnesota and Washington, the Nuggets have had one hell of a January, including impressive road wins against the Lakers and Rockets and a home win over the Thunder recently. Should the Nuggets best the Pacers Monday and the Rockets Wednesday to improve to 29-18, the fourth overall seed is well within reach.

***

Denver Nuggets Tickets

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