Trail Blazers-Pacers Preview
If the Blazers are going to recover their elite offensive form Friday night in Indianapolis, they'll have to do it against the NBA's best home team and stingiest defensive unit.
Indiana (38-10) has won three straight after Tuesday's 89-85 victory at Atlanta. David West led the way with 22 points and 10 rebounds while the Pacers held Hawks starters to 39 points.
"Our guys buckled down on the defensive end," said coach Frank Vogel, whose team is 32-0 when holding opponents under 95 points. "(Atlanta) made a few shots in the last minute or two, but for the most part we held a pretty explosive team down to 85 points. That's a pretty good effort."
However, starting forward Lance Stephenson injured his lower back in the win and will sit out Friday when the Pacers return to Bankers Life Fieldhouse, where they'll put their NBA-best 23-2 home record on the line against the league's top-scoring team.
The Blazers just haven't looked like it lately, averaging 91.8 points in their last five - a 2-3 stretch - while shooting 39.4 percent from the field. For the season, they're averaging 107.7 points and shooting 45.2 percent while the Pacers are limiting teams to 90.2 points on 41.3 percent shooting - both league-bests.
Portland (35-14) ended a four-game road losing streak Wednesday with a 94-90 win at New York, but the scoring issues continued as the Blazers shot 38.0 percent.
Coach Terry Stotts still came away feeling optimistic.
"I thought our defense all game was pretty good," said Stotts, whose team started 12-2 on the road but is 4-7 since. "I thought for us to win a game shooting 38 percent, it's not an easy thing to do."
Nicolas Batum had a team-high 20 points with 10 rebounds while LaMarcus Aldridge had 15 points on 5-of-17 shooting and grabbed 12 boards. Aldridge did hit a key turnaround jumper with 35 seconds left to re-establish a two-possession lead.
"I had the whole game to miss shots so I felt like I was due some makes," Aldridge said. "Law of averages have to catch up sooner or later. I had made one easy one, one tough one. So I felt like I was going to make it."
The Blazers beat the Pacers 106-102 in Portland on Dec. 2 despite Paul George's career-best 43 points on 16-of-30 shooting, a 53.3 percent mark he'd gladly welcome now. After going 6 for 16 against Atlanta, George has hit 32.0 percent of his shots in the last six games.
"I like the big games," said George, who's averaging 16.2 points in this stretch after entering it averaging 23.6. "It's always fun playing against tough competition, and we felt like we had an opportunity to win in Portland. We know we've got our work cut out for (Friday) night. This is a team that is going to be a great challenge for us, but we feel like we can take them down as well."
Aldridge led the Blazers in the first matchup with 28 points and 10 rebounds. Damian Lillard, who along with George will participate in the NBA's slam dunk contest at All-Star weekend, had 26.
The Blazers have lost three straight at Indiana.