Opponents: Cleveland Cavaliers (0-1)
Venue: Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse
Tip-off: 8pm ET, 1am BST
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After dropping their first game of the new NBA season, Indiana Pacers (0-1) will look to bounce back with a trip to 2016 NBA Champions Cleveland Cavaliers (0-1) tonight.
The Pacers could be without Jeremy Lamb, who is still struggling with a slight hip injury. T.J. Warren has recovered from his nasty fall on Wednesday and is expected to start for the Blue and Gold at the Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.
The Cavaliers also lost their first game of the new season, falling 94-85 to Orlando Magic. Cleveland are coming off a tough year after losing LeBron James to Los Angeles Lakers last summer. They only won 19 regular season matches in 2018-19 and whilst many predict them to slightly improve on that record this time around; they are not expected to mount a serious play-off challenge.
One thing the Pacers have overwhelmingly over the Cavaliers is experience. Cleveland’s roster is made up of a majority of players with less than three years’ in the NBA. Their new coach John Beilein has never managed a league franchise, as is learning on the job as well as his players.
Indiana should therefore be comfortable in controlling the game in Ohio, forcing the young Cavs to cause a few mistakes in the process. The fact it is Cleveland’s home opener shouldn’t go amiss, and hopefully the atmosphere inside Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse doesn’t distract the Pacers.
Kevin Love will be the main threat and arguably the most recognisable name for the Cavaliers, Veteran centre Tristan Thompson top scored on opening night for the Cavs with 16 points. He has come into the season with aggression in his game, which has seemingly made him more efficient. In Thompson’s career stats he averages around 9 points a game, whilst in Cleveland’s first pre-season game he netted 26 points. Again in their second game he scored 15 points – and shows no signs of slowing his aggressive nature. At 28-years-old, he could still be a huge asset to Cleveland this season and beyond should he extend his current deal, which runs until the end of the season.
The Cavs also have two promising young stars in the point guard position: Collin Sexton and rookie Darius Garland. Sexton also scored 16 points against Orlando Magic as he showed his speed and agility with the ball in hand. However, with Sexton the prominent PG at the moment, Garland has had to shift to Shooting Guard, a position he has not yet accustomed to. Malcolm Brogdon may use this to his advantage, and if Lamb does start the pair could cause the young Cavs a few headaches on Saturday night.
From a Pacers point of view, improved team chemistry will be the thing most fans and pundits will be looking out for. The roster seemed to enjoy a team bonding evening in Cleveland last night and have had more time on the practice courts over the past couple of days, as they continue to acclimatise to their new teammates.
As for the two big men – we should see Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner both score in and around the 20 point mark again. They should have the strength and skill to command both ends of the floor tower as they will not have to deal with someone as good at rebounding the ball as Andre Drummond like on opening night.
The second unit must also do better coming off the bench. 16 points off the bench was simply not good enough last time out. Nate McMillan used 11 players on opening night and could do a similar thing tonight as he tries to find combinations that work. T.J. McConnell and Edmond Sumner did well in phases, but neither sufficiently affected the game.
Going into tonight’s game the Pacers have enjoyed recent success against Cleveland. They have won seven of the last nine meetings, including a 3-1 series victory last season.