Pacers-Trail Blazers Preview

The Indiana Pacers have been perhaps the NBA’s most impressive

team through the season’s first month.

They might learn exactly how good they are over the next nine

days as they navigate what could be the most difficult portion of

their schedule.

Indiana continues its five-game road trip Monday night against a

Portland Trail Blazers team that has only lost once over the last

three weeks.

Though the Pacers (16-1) continue to extend the best start in

franchise history, Sunday’s 105-100 win over the Los Angeles

Clippers is their lone victory over a team currently above .500.

They’ve beaten New Orleans and Memphis, who are both 8-8.

Having taken down the Clippers, Indiana is about to get several

more opportunities against some of the league’s elite, starting

Monday against the 14-3 Blazers. While they’ll follow Wednesday

against league-worst Utah, the trip ends with a back-to-back set

against San Antonio and Oklahoma City – teams with a combined 26-6

record. The Pacers then have a day off before hosting 14-3 Miami on

Dec. 10.

“It’s a good challenge for us. We’re embracing this trip,” David

West, who is shooting 58.1 percent over his last six games versus

Portland, told the team’s official website. “We have a whole

different animal going to Portland, but we’ve got to be prepared to

let this one go, leave this one in Los Angeles, and prepare for a

tough, tough game.”

They continue to be led by a suffocating defense, limiting teams

to league lows of 86.5 points per game and 39.0 percent shooting.

Sunday saw just the second time Indiana has allowed an opponent to

reach 100.

However, the offense – averaging 97.5 points on 44.8 percent

shooting – is not near that elite level.

“We can become a lot better. We’re still nowhere close to where

we want to be offensively, and that’s the next step for us,” said

Paul George, who scored 27 versus Los Angeles.

George is 17 of 34 from 3-point range over his last six games.

He scored 22 in both meetings with Portland last year while going 7

of 17 from beyond the arc, though he recorded as many turnovers

(seven) as he did assists. Second-leading scorer Lance Stephenson

(12.6 ppg) totaled just four points while going 2 for 9 from the

field.

The Blazers, who have won four straight meetings in Portland,

come off a 114-108 road win over the Lakers at Staples Center, just

hours after Indiana had knocked off the Clippers there. The finish

was a little closer than they would have liked after entering the

fourth quarter with a 20-point lead.

“When things are going well, we tend to ease up instead of

tightening up and putting teams away,” point guard Damian Lillard

said.

Despite the close call, Portland is also playing some of its

best basketball in years, having tied a franchise record with 13

wins in the month of November and earning 12 victories in its last

13 contests.

Conversely from the Pacers, the Blazers have been successful

with one of the league’s better offenses, particularly from 3-point

range where they’re hitting 41.4 percent of their shots. Lillard,

Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum each average more than two made

3-pointers per game.

LaMarcus Aldridge is averaging just shy of a double-double with

22.4 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. He shot 34.1 percent from

the field in his three previous matchups with Indiana before going

12 of 17 with 27 points in the clubs’ last meeting, a 100-80 home

win on Jan. 23.

Lillard averaged 21.5 points on 58.1 percent shooting in two

matchups last season.