Opponents: Detroit Pistons (0-0)
Venue: Bankers Life Fieldhouse
Tip-off: 7pm ET, 12am BST
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It has been a long, long summer but finally the 2019-20 NBA season is off and running.
The Indiana Pacers open their account tonight at Bankers Life Fieldhouse against fellow Eastern Conference rivals the Detroit Pistons.
This is the fourth year in a row that the Pacers will open their season at home, having won their previous three. They have also won eight of their previous nine meetings with tonights opponents at Bankers Life.
The pre-season offered fans plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the team’s offensive prowess. Indiana averaged 119 points in their four matches. Scoring like that will see them win more games then they will lose over the course of the 82-game regular season.
With All-Star Victor Oladipo out until at least Christmas, acquiring players who can score was imperative for Head Coach Nate McMillan and co over the summer months. Instead of putting all their eggs in one basket and attempt to get another big name to fill the void, the Pacers were shrewd with their off-season business. Signing a group of players who strengthen plenty of areas where the team lacked last season has in many ways made more people excited for what this team can achieve over the next eight months.
Whilst they are still outsiders to win the Eastern Conference, some will see them as a team much more capable of doing so than 12 months ago. Improving on their 48-34 record and fifth-place finish has to be the target, and if they can get to that magic 50 wins for the regular season, home court advantage in the play-offs would be a considerable achievement in itself.
NEW FACES IN THE STARTING FIVE
Three of the starting five will be new summer acquisitions in Malcolm Brogdon, T.J. Warren and Jeremy Lamb. Brogdon, who joined the Pacers from Milwaukee, comes off the back of a very impressive 2018-19 where he became just the eighth player in NBA history to join the 50-40-90 Club (averaging over 50% for field goals, 40% three pointers and 90% from the free throw line over the course of a season).
Warren, signed from Phoenix Suns, surprised many when he scored a massive 30 points on debut against the Sacramento Kings in India. He has the potential to average 20 points per game for the season. With those numbers, he is the perfect supplement to Oladipo once he returns as the two men leading the scoring charts for Indiana.
Lamb is a competent all-round player. Last year he was the Charlotte Hornets’ second-highest points scorer, averaging 15.5pts. He also has good handles, can get to the basket and defend well when required.
With any new team though, there will be a period where the team need to gel. Things will not be perfect on opening night, as the players begin to understand one another. Injuries pending, these five can expect solid spells in the starting five before Christmas, and it shouldn’t take long for them to settle.
TURNER + SABONIS
With Domantas Sabonis extending his stay in Indiana on Monday, we will now definitely see whether he can link up with Myles Turner in the Pacers starting lineup. The two – dubbed by the media as the ‘twin towers’ – have the ability to make a deadly duo. Turner makes more blocks than most in the NBA, whilst Sabonis is better in offensive positions and scoring baskets.
Will it work though? We’ve seen it at the New Orleans Pelicans with Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, and at the Pistons funnily enough with Griffin and Drummond. Both cases success is relatively low.
Playing two big men together works against some teams, but not all. In order for this alliance to fully blossom, Sabonis will need to be able to defend against the smaller, quicker power forwards in the league. We will see how he fares tonight, especially with the news coming out of Detroit about one of their star men.
NO BLAKE GRIFFIN FOR DETROIT
All-Star Blake Griffin misses tonight’s matchup with a hamstring problem, which is a huge blow to Dwane Casey’s team. The forward comes into the season following one of his best seasons in the NBA. In 2018-19 he averaged 23.5 points per game, 7.5 rebounds and 5.4 assists. He was instrumental as the Pistons recorded 41-41 for the season which earned them a play-off place for the first time in three years.
STOP DRUMMOND, POSSIBLY STOP PISTONS
6’11 centre Andre Drummond will now be the main threat for Detroit tonight. Ranking highest in the league for rebounds for the previous two seasons, Drummond could be a handful for the likes of Turner and Sabonis in and around the rim on both sides of the floor.
However, despite his defensive game winning over many plaudits, his offence does let him down at times. He’s tried to improve his free throw shooting and ball handling, so it will be interesting to see what he can conjure up this evening.
Should he struggle to make baskets, and with less depth in their roster, the Pistons may struggle for points altogether in Indiana. The likes of Derrick Rose and Luke Kennard will need to capitalise on Drummond’s ability at the pick-and-roll as that could be their most devastating weapon in their arsenal if executed well enough.
Drummond is starting his eighth season with the Pistons, and the 26-year-old will be hoping the team improves, especially with his contract up next summer and talks of a trade intensify. The Pistons should be in and around the play-off picture come April, but time will tell as to whether this roster has what it takes to mount a serious challenge on their Eastern Conference rivals.