The Pacers come to town having lost two straight and 3 of their last 4, but led by the amazingly talented Paul George in a resurgent season for him. He leads Indiana in points, rebounds and steals, and is 8th in the league in points per game. The Pacers pride themselves on defense with the 8th-best points-against mark in the league, but both of their losses have been defensive aberrations, coughing up 100+ points in their last two outings. The Nuggets bricked their way to an abysmal second half and a loss against the Heat, starting the game 15-of-21 from the field but stumbling to a 17-for-57 finish after that. Paul George called out the effort of his team after their their latest loss, stating:
"Poor effort. Poor effort on both ends of the floor. They took the fight to us. It's like they were comfortable from the get-go," George said." You can't let a team get comfortable, especially when it's the point guard and their best player. That's the head of the snake. We should never lose games like this, especially at home, where a team comes in and pushes the tempo and establishes how they're going to play."
Whichever team dicates the terms of this matchup will likely win it, so the Nuggets need to make sure not to fall into that same trap.
|Indiana Pacers||Denver Nuggets||Advantage|
|PG||George Hill||Jameer Nelson||Pacers|
|SG||Monta Ellis||Gary Harris||Even|
|SF||C.J. Miles||Danilo Gallinari||Nuggets|
|PF||Paul George||Kenneth Faried||Pacers|
|C||Jordan Hill||Nikola Jokic||Nuggets|
|Bench||Will Barton, Emmanuel Mudiay, Randy Foye, Joffrey Lauvergne, Mike Miller, J.J. Hickson,Sean Kilpatrick||Even|
Three Thhings to Watch For:
Whose star shows up? Paul George is 19th in the league in Winshares. Danilo Gallinari is 23rd. Neither man can entirely carry his team if the effort isn't there from the rest of his teammates, but the wins usually come off of good performances from the respective stars. George has been struggling from deep recently (10 for his last 44) while Gallinari scored just 11 points on 2-for-10 from the field against Miami, breaking his recent streak of 20+ point games. One man is going to try to impose his will on the game. I expect the Rooster to get back to form, as he usually does after a sub-par effort. Indiana doesn't really have anyone who should be able to stop Gallo from getting to the basket for those foul shots that have powered his offense of late. I also expect George to find his 3-point stroke, since Denver is the worst unit in the NBA when it comes to 3-point defense. Shall we call it a draw?
Mudiay's recovery and growth. The Nuggets future is predicated on their young players - I don't think that's a world shaking sentiment. But Mudiay is unique, because there is no alternate plan without his success. Nurkic struggles with injury? Denver has Jokic and Lauvergne to plug the hole. Chandler is hurt? Gallo can put the team on his back. Harris only turns into a decent rotation player? No problem. Barton is trying to become a minor star. But Mudiay has no backup plan. Jameer is not getting any younger, and all the minutes he's playing are taking away his ability to be a sharp contributor in his original role for this team. Nelson's isolations too often turn into nothing, and his clanking of the tying shot to end the game against the Heat is indicative of the gulf between his actual current abilities and his belief in those abilities.
Jameer is still getting assists, but his per-minute scoring has suffered, logging 7 or fewer points in his last 11 games starting, including a pair of scoreless games. Michael Malone stated he wanted Mudiay to win the starting job back from the bench and Mudiay's performance against the Heat had a lot of good things in it. He hit a pair of threes and had a monster dunk while limiting turnovers. He got blocked by Hassan Whiteside a couple times, but everyone did - and it meant he was aggressive about getting to the bucket. Mudiay's continued growth and a more efficient contribution on offense is vital to the season and to beating the Pacers. lf Gallo and George cancel each other out, then it's on the rest of the team to defeat the Pacers. Indiana's four leading scorers are all guards and wings, so in a game of smalls Mudiay's defense and offense will be crucial next to Barton and Harris.
Prediction: Indiana is 1-9 in their last 10 games in the Pepsi Center, and I expect that to go to 1-10. If the Nuggets had beaten the Heat maybe there would be a let-down, but that's an angry team right now. 108-100, Denver.