The Indiana Pacers find themselves with the NBA's best record. Sitting at 16-1 and coming off a seven-game winning streak, they will face their most difficult task to date as they take on the West's top team in the Portland Trail Blazers.
Because each team will face its largest challenge of the season thus far, it will take more than the stellar performances of their stars to win this game.
Here's a look at two players on each team that have gone under the radar and will need to have a big game to give their team a chance to win.
After a rough November, Pacers point guard C.J. Watson finished the month with his best performance of the season against the Charlotte Bobcats, posting a season-high 18 points while contributing six rebounds and an assist in the winning effort.
Starting point guard George Hill will have all he can handle in perhaps his tallest task of the season—containing Damian Lillard. Lillard is averaging 20.2 points per game, which is fourth-highest among active NBA point guards, to go with 5.9 assists.
Look for Hill to need frequent breaks, due to foul trouble or lack of defensive containment, and plenty of opportunities for Watson to provide scoring off the bench.
The former Houston Rockets and Phoenix Suns power forward has faced an unfamiliar role since arriving in Indiana. After being a full-time starter for just about all of his career, the 33-year-old Argentinian has been relegated to coming off of the bench.
Similarly to Hill, starting power forward David West will have all he can handle when he matches up against LaMarcus Aldridge, who's averaging a staggering 22.4 points per game along with 9.5 rebounds—both of which are top-six marks among active NBA power forwards.
Scola, however, faces a familiar opponent in Aldridge and will look to have an immediate impact on the game when he enters.
Portland Trail Blazers
To this point, Portland has been able to get by with very little utilization of its bench. Nevertheless, the Blazers have received consistent play off the bench from reserve power forward Thomas Robinson.
A third-year player that's often overshadowed by Aldridge and Nicolas Batum, Robinson has scored at least once and recorded at least one rebound in every game this season.
Given a large stage on Monday, Robinson will look to provide a defensive presence as well. His large, 6'10" frame will be utilized to bother the shots of West and Scola.
Like Scola, coming off the bench is a relatively unfamiliar role for Blazers point guard Mo Williams. After scoring in double figures five consecutive times in the middle of November, Williams has gone into a slump of sorts and is due for a breakout on Monday night.
Williams brings experience that can't be matched by the young starting backcourt of the Blazers. Experienced players tend to shine more in big games. Williams will likely play early and often to give Lillard a spell.
Both teams know what's at stake in this game. It's the first opportunity for each team to prove its league-wide dominance by taking down the top dog from the opposing conference.
The momentum gained by winning this game will loom large as both teams take on tough stretches of their schedule going forward.
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