Game Preview: Nuggets vs Pacers
After a day off, the heat is back on. The Nuggets, just one game out of the eighth spot in the Western Conference playoff race can inch closer with a win Tuesday night against the Indiana Pacers, who are quietly the most underrated story in the league this season.
And, as with pretty much every game the Nuggets will play the remainder of the season, this will not be easy. The Pacers, currently fifth in the Eastern Conference with designs on moving up to as high as the third seed, are one of league’s hottest teams this calendar year. Indiana is 27-13 since Jan. 1, which is the sixth-best record in the league. They beat the Nuggets in overtime in Indiana back on Dec. 10.
The Nuggets, meanwhile, got some good news with the expected return of Wilson Chandler, who missed the last game due to a nasal fracture. The starting small forward will wear a mask to protect his face.
The Nuggets are coming into the game, winners of two straight games. How can they make that three? Start with these things…
Keep Turnovers Under Control: The Pacers are a disruptive basketball team on the defensive end. Overall this season, they are second in the NBA in steals at just over eight per game. However, since Jan. 1, the Pacers are averaging 9.7 steals per game (1st in the NBA), they force 15.9 turnovers (1st in the NBA), and they score 18.3 points off of turnovers (3rd in the NBA). Being strong with the basketball, especially when driving into the paint, is key.
Show Oladipo a Crowd: Victor Oladipo has had a breakout season, and is the presumptive front runner for Most Improved Player. He had 47 points against the Nuggets in the first meeting between the two teams. But of all of the things Oladipo does well, making plays when he’s trapped in pick-and-roll situations isn’t necessarily one of them. The Nuggets forced all four of his turnovers in the first meeting out of screen-roll plays. Showing him a crowd off the screen gives the Nuggets a chance to slow down one of the league’s most explosive players.
Keep the Supporting Cast Away from Big Numbers: In the last five games – in which they’ve won all five – two players have stepped up huge for the Pacers; Bojan Bogdanovic and Thaddeus Young. The duo have combined to score 37 points per game, and are a good combination of outside and inside scoring. Victor Oladipo is going to get his points. Not allowing big games from others is a good path to victory.
Christopher Dempsey: email@example.com and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.