Feels a bit chippy here, doesn't it?
Since they haven't squared off in nearly a year, tensions could have cooled, or there could still be some residual resentment. Who knows?
What we do know is the Pacers are looking to extend their four-game winning streak while the Warriors are hoping to snag the convincing victory they didn't get against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
|Opponent's Field-Goal Percentage||40.8||43.5|
Eastern Conference power meets Western Conference hopeful in what will be one of the most well-balanced battles we could see this season.
Seriously, you won't want to miss it.
Time: Monday, Jan. 20, 10:30 p.m. ET
Location: Oracle Arena, Oakland, California
No injuries reported.
Golden State Warriors
Festus Ezeli out (knee), Nemanja Nedovic out (hamstring) and Jermaine O'Neal out (wrist).
How Indiana Wins
The Pacers have to play like the Pacers against Golden State.
Indy has the league's best record because it's consistent, plays defense and makes effective in-game adjustments. Allowing itself to deviate from that blueprint in the first of a five-game road trip won't help bolster its 11-6 record away from home.
Taking down Golden State on its own turf requires the Pacers to capitalize off the Warriors' cursory ball-protection while bird-dogging their wave of three-point shooters.
The Warriors cough up the ball an alarming 16.8 times per game, the second-highest mark in the NBA. For a top-ranked defense, though, the Pacers don't force many turnovers, checking in at 14th, by coercing opponents into only 14.7 miscues a night.
A strong, consistent defense like the one they field, however, should be able to make Golden State pay for its over-passing and questionable man-to-man reads.
Preventing the Warriors from drilling three-pointers will be the real challenge.
Though the Pacers rank first in long-ball defense, holding opponents to a 32.1 percent clip from beyond the arc, the Warriors are burying 38.7 percent of their outside shots. And they're shooting them frequently, attempting 24.5 treys a night, the league's sixth-highest mark.
Piling on more points than usual is going to be essential, too.
Golden State's offense is often mistaken for a dazzling display of consistent uptempo potency, when its defense has anchored most of the team's success.
Tied with the San Antonio Spurs for the fourth-best defensive rating, the Warriors are better equipped for hard-nosed, defensive melees than many others. Their defense is still miles behind the Pacers' tried-and-true set, but it remains among the best.
To their credit, the Pacers' offense has shown marked improvement and the ability to torch inferior contingents. Paul George and Lance Stephenson routinely wreak havoc on the opposition, and the Pacers are a selfless bunch in general, turning a once-stagnant offense into one with an above-average ceiling.
Most recently, they dropped 106 points on the Los Angeles Clippers, who are also sporting a top-10 defense under Doc Rivers, in their latest victory.
Paul George and the Pacers rock the Clippers, 106-92. George: 36 Pts, 6 Reb. Stephenson: 22 Pts, 12 Reb, 7 Ast.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 19, 2014
If they can find a way to eclipse 100 points, like they've done in each of their last three games (all wins), the Pacers will be difficult to bet against.
How Golden State Wins
Controlling the tempo will be paramount for the Warriors.
Assuming they can match up defensively against the Pacers—they can—it will be other factors that play a prominent part in determining the outcome, like pace.
Despite improvement on the offensive end, the Pacers largely remain a gritty team that grinds out victories via heavy half-court sets. Again, they've shown they can win in different ways, but they rank 22nd in fast-break points scored per game and 23rd in possessions used per 48 minutes (92.6). The slower the game, the more comfortable Indiana is.
Getting out in transition and increasing their number of touches will be huge for the Warriors, who rank just 12th in offensive efficiency but fourth in possessions per 48 minutes (96.8). If they can wear down Indiana's shallow rotation playing a style they're more accustomed to, that increases the likelihood of trademark three-point onslaughts from Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
Maintaining the level of defensive prowess fans have come to expect will also be huge. They cannot afford to give the Pacers an inch. Their success is still tied to defense, but their league-leading record is founded upon two-way consistency.
We've seen the Sacramento Kings, New York Knicks and Clippers fall victim to an overuse of double teams in recent days, watching almost helplessly as Indy's selfless offense passed, poked and prodded their way to landslide victories.
Warriors coach Mark Jackson must match Pacers coach Frank Vogel's ability to make instantaneous adjustments.
There's an eloquence to how the Pacers can either start slow before gaining a head of steam, or jump out to an early lead, only to extend it. The Warriors can push the pace and, hopefully, find holes in Indy's firm perimeter defense, but it won't mean as much if they cannot adjust to what the Pacers are doing on the other end.
Said Andrew Bogut of Golden State's defense, via ESPN's Kevin Arnovitz:
It’s not a function of inconsistency. We just have to buy into our defense and move around like we know we can. The last two or three games for us we’ve just been lackadaisical defensively and have tried to win it offensively. It’s easy to get caught up in that and try to get your numbers, and so on. I think when we commit to being a good defensive team, we win games.
See, the thing about the Pacers is, aside from George, you never know where the majority of their offensive output will come from. On any given night, David West, Roy Hibbert, Danny Granger, George Hill and Stephenson could be the No. 2.
The Pacers alter directions on a whim, taking what defenses give them. It's one of the things they do best. A defensive lapse is something the Warriors can ill afford.
Defend consistently, and they'll have a better shot at beating the NBA's best.
Last season, you might have called the Pacers and Warriors polar opposites.
Indy was a team that prided itself exclusively on defense, often neglecting offensive responsibilities; Golden State, while more balanced, was an offensive darling.
This year, things have changed.
The Pacers are still known for their defense, and the Warriors have followed suit. More impressively, they're two of the most well-balanced teams in the leagues.
Which team will emerge victorious?
Playing at Oracle Arena, one of the most difficult places win, won't help the Pacers, who are already a shaky 11-6 on the road, if you can even call it that. But the Warriors score less at home and the Pacers score more on the road, making for an interesting contest.
Expect a physical grudge match, where both teams attempt to over compensate on the offensive end. And when the final buzzer sounds, it will be the squad that balanced their two-sided attack best leaving with a win.
It will be the Warriors, who are itching for a breakout victory and are playing at home, that will have pulled off the upset.
Prediction Warriors 98, Pacers 95