Kevin Durant, Roy Hibbert
Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder visit Bankers Life Fieldhouse on April 13.
Layne Murdoch Jr. - NBAE/Getty Images

Big Games, Big Names in Second Half of Season

by Jeff Tzucker | @PacersWebMan

January 16, 2014

At halftime of the Pacers-Knicks game on Thursday night, the Pacers were exactly halfway through their home games for the regular season: 20 1/2.

And, by the end of the game, the Pacers had beaten every team they've faced at home besides one, Detroit.

In fact, when looking at the list of fallen Eastern Conference teams at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, it's easier to point out teams the Pacers haven't yet beaten at the Fieldhouse on their way to a 20-1 home record: The Hawks (haven't yet played at home), and Pistons (lost, 96-101).

Everyone else? Dust.

From a Western Conference point of view, the Pacers also have beaten each team they've faced in the Fieldhouse. However, it's certainly no stretch to say the Pacers haven't seen the best of the West yet. The second-half of the season brings a veritable murderer's row of Western Conference teams.

In short order, the Pacers are looking at the Clippers (1/18), Trail Blazers (2/7), Mavericks (2/12), Golden State (3/4), Spurs (3/31), and Thunder (4/13). That doesn't even include games against two teams with winning records: The Suns (Suns!) on January 30 and Nuggets on February 10. The combined record of those teams is 205-112 for a .647 winning percentage.

To compare, there are only two teams in the Eastern Conference with a better winning percentage than that group's average: Pacers (31-7, .816) and Heat (27-11, .711).

In other words, the Pacers have their work cut out for them and are going to need to protect home court to keep their goal of being the number one seed in the East come playoff time.

Let's take a quick look at some of the bigger games during the second half of the Pacers home games this season:

Clippers (27-13 as of Jan. 16) - January 18 at 7 PM | Game Rewind

Every time you play a team that has injuries, there's an excuse. So, when the Pacers beat the Clippers in LA back on December, some folks pointed to the absence of sharpshooter J.J. Redick as the reason (no one afforded the Pacers the same excuse with Granger out, though). This time, Redick will play. But, in comes one player, out goes another: Perennial all-star Chris Paul, who is sidelined with a shoulder injury, will not play. In Paul's absence, ex-Pacers point guard Darren Collison will get the start and look to feed lobs early and often to high-flier Blake Griffin.

Suns (22-16) - January 30 at 7 PM | Tickets

I know, I know, this shouldn't be considered a "big game," but there are a couple reasons this game is interesting. The first is the return of Miles Plumlee and Gerald Green. Both players have seen their careers flourish in the desert. For Pacers fans who wondered what native-Hoosier Plumlee could do as a player, now's your chance to see him: He's starting for the Suns and averaging close to a double-double (9.9 pts, 9 rebs), shooting 51.6% from the floor, and is blocking 1.7 shots per game. I, for one, am curious to watch him up close. As for Gerald Green? While his minutes were already up from last season with the Pacers, with the injury to starting guard Eric Bledsoe, his minutes have increased more. Plus, you never know if he'll do something like this.

What's the other reason this is a big game? Oh, just the fact that they're the biggest surprise in the league right now. No one saw this coming with the Suns and it's always fun to watch a curiosity in action.

Trail Blazers (29-9) - February 7 | Tickets

Quite simply, when these two teams played in Portland on December 2, it was the most entertaining regular-season game I've seen in a long, long time. While the Pacers lost that game, 102-106, Paul George was magnificent down the stretch, hitting big 3-pointer after big 3-pointer while the Blazers' LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard matched with big shots of their own. In the parlance of our times, it was an instant classic.

What helps make this matchup so interesting is it pits the top-scoring team in the league versus the stingiest defense in the league: The Blazers average 109.1 points per game on offense while the Pacers give up just 88.1 points per game. It's an extreme case of the classic "clash in styles". Individually, the Blazers brag up-and-coming stars Aldridge and Lillard who are just starting to figure out how good they can be both individually and as a team. Frankly, if I was a paying fan, this is a game I wouldn't miss.

Denver (20-18) and Dallas (23-17) - February 10 and 12 | Denver Tix, Dallas Tix

I lumped these games together because they're two teams that are close in date, record, and Pacers' ties: Denver is coached by former Pacers associate head coach Brian Shaw and Dallas has former Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle at the helm.

Both teams are solid with a chance to win every night they're on the floor. Denver has a pair of the most explosive guards in the league with Ty Lawson and Nate Robinson. Dallas, on the other hand, boasts a trio of wily vets in all-timer Dirk Nowitzki, former all-star Shawn Marion, and a late-career Vince Carter, who has remade himself in to one of the most valuable sixth-men in the league.

Both teams present their own sets of challenges to the Pacers, whether it's keeping Denver's guards in front of them or engaging the Mavs in a nice game of chess.

Golden State (25-15) - March 4 | Tickets

Coached by former Pacers point guard Mark Jackson, the Warriors are led by marksmen Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson and their frontcourt partner-in-crime, David Lee. Each of these players averages at least 19 pts per game, making them one of only two teams in the league with such a distinction (the Kings are the other). Further complicating matters for opposing teams is another very good shooter in Harrison Barnes (.422 3-pt percentage) and the offseason addition of all-around gamer and defensive ace, Andre Iguodala.

For the Pacers, Paul George, George Hill, and Lance Stephenson are going to have to find a way to wrap up the Warriors' shooters while making them work on the other end. Roy Hibbert and David West will need to step up inside on offense to take some of the load off Paul, George, and Lance and punish the Warriors with their physicality.

Spurs (31-8) - March 31 | Tickets

So many storylines, so little time. Jockeying for playoff seeding, the legendary Tim Duncan and the Spurs' "Big Three", the rematch after the Pacers pummeled San Antonio in their house, the George Hill-Kawhi Leonard trade, the cliché "measuring stick game", and a possible overall number 1 seed in the playoffs.

Let's face it: If the Pacers are serious about winning a title, there's a good chance they'll have to go through the Spurs to get it. Both teams will likely try different looks on each other in anticipation of possibly seeing each other in the Finals, but if either team is locked in a battle for the number 1 seed in their conference--let alone the best record in the NBA--this game takes on extra meaning.

Thunder (31-8) - April 13 (last reg. season home game) | Tickets

Much like the Spurs matchup a few weeks earlier, this could be a game with a lot on the line. If the Thunder and Pacers are still trying to lock in to a specific playoff seed, it figures to be a competitive affair. Plus, toss in a Pacers squad that has lost pretty badly in three straight games against OKC, and you have all the makings for a statement game.

When the Thunder are at full strength, they pose a lot of matchup problems for the Pacers: A tall, long forward in Kevin Durant who can score at will; and, a super-athletic all-star point guard in Russell Westbrook. The length and height of Durant seems to neutralize Paul George's length and height advantage he has over most players at the forward position. On the guard side, Westbrook's athleticism and size give George Hill all he can handle as well. The Pacers need to take advantage of their size, make the Thunder work on the defensive end, and try to slow down either Westbrook or Durant just enough to come out on top.

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