Definitive Guide to Pacers vs. Blazers and Monday's NBA Action

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistDecember 2, 2013

Definitive Guide to Pacers vs. Blazers and Monday's NBA Action

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    Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    Recuperating from an extended Turkey Day hangover? The NBA has the cure.

    Monday night hoops are some of the best. Not because I'm thrilled that you're back at work, languishing in paperwork, tedious responsibilities and a lack of sleep, either. No, it's not that at all.

    Basketball can remedy the workweek blues. That's why.

    Had a bad Monday? Boss wouldn't stop chattering about his or her Black Friday conquests? Coworker steal your Thanksgiving-turkey, gravy-drenched sandwich? Don't worry, it's going to be fine.

    Watch as the Indiana Pacers and Portland Trail Blazers, two of the winningest teams in the league right now, look to see who's better. Power through the absence of Anthony Davis to watch the New Orleans Pelicans take their act to the Derrick Rose-less Chicago Bulls' front door. Bask in the glory of watching the San Antonio Spurs attempt to send another Eastern Conference foe below .500; you won't regret it.

    Come 7 p.m. ET, the night officially begins. And all will be right with the world. Head honchos in musty suits/pantsuits will have stopped blabbering, and all sandwich thefts will have been solved. 

    Your Monday will have been saved.

    Monday Night's Lineup

    Orlando Magic vs. Washington Wizards, 7 p.m. ET (NBATV)

    New Orleans Pelicans vs. Chicago Bulls, 8 p.m. ET

    Atlanta Hawks vs. San Antonio Spurs, 8:30 p.m. ET 

    Houston Rockets vs. Utah Jazz, 9 p.m. ET

    Indiana Pacers vs. Portland Trail Blazers, 10 p.m. ET

    *All stats from this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference and are accurate as of Dec. 2, 2013, unless otherwise noted.

Best Matchup of the Night: Indiana Pacers vs. Portland Trail Blazers

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    Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    Bet you didn't see this coming. 

    A month ago, if we were asked which two NBA teams would have the best records in either conference to begin December, how many people would've voted for the Blazers (who are tied with the Spurs) and Pacers? Exactly zero, and there's no way around it.

    Maybe you would've guessed one. And if you had, it most likely would've been Indiana. Portland wasn't at that level or even close. The Blazers didn't even have a playoff team. Another lottery appearance was in their immediate future.

    But here we are, on Dec. 2, and these teams account for two of the four best records in the NBA. Go figure.

    Led by Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland's explosive top-five offense is fresh off a convincing 11-game winning streak (the team has currently won 12 of 13). Beating Indiana, a dominant force in its own right, would be yet another notch on the Blazers' already-decorated belt.

    Anchored by Paul George and a top-rated defense, the Pacers are in the midst of a seven-game winning streak of their own. Taking down the Blazers would further assert their dominance as the league's best team.

    Two unlikely powerhouses. One helluva matchup. 

Must-See Individual Matchup: Jeff Teague vs. Tony Parker

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    This is intriguing. Beyond intriguing. I've literally wanted to see this matchup since Jeff Teague started playing like an All-Star. 

    Tony Parker and Teague are putting up comparable numbers. See for yourself:

    Tony Parker30.718.352.627.
    Jeff Teague 32.917.340.620.

    The more efficient player is clearly Parker, but Teague is having himself a season. The departures of Joe Johnson and Josh Smith over the last two summers left the Hawks in need of a new No. 1 option, and they found it in him, the point guard who almost followed Larry Drew to the Milwaukee Bucks. 

    Atlanta has struggled to stay at .500, and I'm at the point where I cringe to think where its mediocre offense would be without him. He's one of only four players on the team averaging in double figures and the only player dishing out more than four assists per game.

    Like clockwork, Parker has continued to dominate in modest fashion himself. Despite barely clearing 30 minutes per game once again, he has the ageless Spurs tied with the Heat and Blazers for the second-best record in the NBA. 

    Much like Teague, Parker has emerged as San Antonio's beating heart. He's the only player on the team averaging more than 13 points a contest and he's had to pick up more of the offensive slack as Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili battle inconsistent stat lines. 

    Talented point guards are dime a dozen in the association, but I'd pay far more than that to see this duo go head-to-head.

Who Has the Most on the Line?

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    Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    To be perfectly clear, the Pacers are for real. But they're not beyond reproach.

    Indy's defense, while impregnable, is being complemented once again by a middling offense. Find a way to score on the Pacers, and you stand a chance. Scoring on them is no easy feat, though. They've been that incredible.

    Still, only one of their victories has come against a squad currently above .500 (Los Angeles Clippers). And 13 of their victories have come against teams below .500. That's something to consider.

    Outfits like the Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks and Minnesota Timberwolves can be characterized as gross underachievers, and therefore credible victories. But statistically, the Pacers have had the second-easiest schedule in the NBA. 

    Lose to the Blazers, and they'll be 1-1 against teams above .500. What are we supposed to make of that? Calling them posers is a bit extreme. Again, they're not pretenders. But doubting them wouldn't be unreasonable.

    To contend, they'll have to consistently beat teams like the Blazers and the Miami Heat. Until now, they haven't had to. This, then, is a test. A measuring stick. A sign of how far they've come or how far they still need to go.

    "We're always up for a challenge, and we had a good one today," said Pacers center Roy Hibbert after the team's win over the Clippers, per the Associated Press (via ESPN).

    Let's see if they're prepared for another good one tonight.

Injury Report

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    Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sport

    Injuries are no fun—especially if you're the Pelicans. And especially if the injury bug has chosen to consume a certain one-eyebrowed phenom.

    Atlanta Hawks

    Kyle Korver (rib): Korver has sat out the last three games with a rib contusion. Hopefully he'll be ready to go Monday, when the Hawks will desperately need his floor spacing. He's listed as questionable.

    Chicago Bulls

    Jimmy Butler (toe): According to ESPN Chicago's Scott Powers, Butler's turf toe is improving. Finally, some good news in Chicago. The bad news? His return date remains uncertain.

    Derrick Rose (knee): It's still paining me to write this.

    Houston Rockets

    Jeremy Lin (knee): CSN's Adam Wexler previously broke the news that Lin suffered a Grade 1 knee sprain and contusion and will be out at least two weeks. Nothing like putting a damper on what was shaping up to be a Sixth Man of the Year campaign.

    Indiana Pacers

    Danny Granger (calf): The Oregonian's Mike Tokito says Granger remains out with a calf strain. It's times like these I like to picture how much more dangerous Indy would be if it could get anything—anything at all—from the former All-Star.

    New Orleans Pelicans

    Anthony Davis (hand): Life isn't fair. New Orleans announced that Davis suffered a "non-displaced fracture" in his left hand against the Knicks on Sunday. A return date isn't known. I repeat: Life isn't fair.

    Orlando Magic

    Tobias Harris (ankle): The Orlando Sentinel's Josh Robbins writes that Harris' high-ankle sprain will keep him out for the immediate future. Yet another example of the injury bug not being kind to a young gun.

    Washington Wizards

    Bradley Beal (leg): If Beal's two-week timetable holds true, he's about one week away from returning to Washington's lineup. John Wall has his fingers crossed.

    *Some injury information obtained via CBS Sports.

Pop-in Potential: Atlanta Hawks vs. San Antonio Spurs

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    For more than one reason, the Hawks-Spurs matchup is worth your attention.

    Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer spent nearly two decades working side-by-side with the media killer himself, Gregg Popovich. They took over the Western Conference together. Won championships together. Built a dynasty together. On Monday, they'll go up against each other for the first time since Budenholzer rolled the dice on a sideline career in Atlanta.

    Their teams meet ranked in the top three in each of their respective conferences. The difference is the Spurs continue to be a well-oiled powerhouse, capable of dismantling any opponent thrown their way, and the Hawks are battling to stay above .500, in an Eastern Conference that isn't top-heavy.

    Which brings me to my next point: the Eastern Conference. The sad, woeful, sorry-excuse-for-a-start-to-the-season Eastern Conference.

    Three teams presently boast records of .500 or better. Three. Out of 15. Also written as "pathetic." Meanwhile, 12 teams out West stand at .500 or better. Twelve. Out of 15. Or, 80 percent. (Also see: sweet mother of God.)

    The Western Conference has always been the superior of the two, but this is getting ridiculous. If the Spurs win, the Hawks will fall under .500, leaving the Heat and Pacers as the only two teams with winning records. 

    Be sure to tune in as Atlanta fights not only for the themselves, but also for the East's withering dignity.

Fantasy Stockwatch

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    Ron Hoskins/Getty Images

    Nights like these are easy.

    Short ballots where only a third of the NBA is an action don't create managerial issues. There will be no conflicts; no gut-wrenching decision of who to bench and who to play. Rather, you're left hoping a limited supply of players can get the job done. 

    Oftentimes, that can be a helpless feeling. When only four or five players are in action, one or two bad performances can swing your fantasy matchup in the wrong direction. Or it can thrust you into a commanding lead, at the expense of your opponent's demise. You just don't know. But I do.

    Hindsight is 20/20, but foresight is a cooler 20/10. Gather 'round, and we'll peak into the future together.

    The Big Guns

    John Wall

    Come hell or high water, John Wall is going to cushion your stat lines.

    Orlando's defense has been stellar all season, while Washington's offense can sometimes be the tactical equivalent of pocket lint, but it doesn't matter. Without Beal, Wall has to become an even more aggressive version of himself.

    Though he struggled in a loss to the Pacers on Friday, he exploded against the Hawks on Saturday, going for 26 points, 12 assists, six rebounds and five steals. Duplicating that performance to the number will be difficult, if not impossible. But with the Wizards a win away from reaching .500, Wall will come out with guns blazing. And your fantasy team will be left reaping the benefits of a second straight explosion.

    James Harden

    After sitting out three games, James Harden built some momentum with a 31-point outburst against the Spurs on Saturday. Facing a porous Jazz defense, he should have no trouble providing us with a solid followup performance on Monday.

    In Houston's road victory over San Antonio, Harden connected on 10-of-19 from the floor, dished out six assists and grabbed seven rebounds to go along with his 31 points. It was a triple-double-esque outing, and one that stands to repeat itself.

    Utah's defense has been atrocious. To put it kindly, it's been generous. Very generous. Mother Teresa couldn't have guided a more charitable attack. 

    The Jazz rank 29th in defensive efficiency, ahead of only the Nets. Chaperoned by the bearded wonder, the Rockets are scoring 109.4 points per game—the most in the NBA.

    Translation: It's going to be a long, productive night in Utah for Mr. Harden.

    The Sleeper

    Mike Dunleavy

    I know; you're shocked. 

    Mike Dunleavy hasn't been the omnipresent outside weapon Chicago was hoping for, but the Bulls' game against the Pelicans has three-point brigade written all over it.

    New Orleans allows opponents to connect on 37.5 percent of their deep balls. The Pelicans are also coming off an exhausting victory over the lowly Knicks. Then there's the whole Davis injury. 

    If coach Tom Thibodeau is smart, he'll have Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng attacking the rim on every offensive possession. The Brow isn't there to deter their dribble penetration. Once inside, if met with any resistance from the defense collapsing, shooters are going to be open.

    Shooters like Dunleavy.