The Pacers play host to the Nets as 6.5 point favorites
The Nets are still attempting to claw their way back to a .500 record. There was a point when Brooklyn was 16-13 midway through December. However, they suffered two separate losing streaks of seven and five games, which left them with an 18-25 record in late January. Ever since that point, the Nets have been working their tails off to break even. They have done pretty well though, all things considered. Since January 25th, Brooklyn has posted a 5-3 record over their last eight games. They now sit at 23-28, but they have a tough test coming up when they travel to Bankers Life Fieldhouse to take on a playoff-caliber team in the Indiana Pacers.
While the Nets seem to have found their groove without their star player (Kyrie Irving hasn’t played since February 1st due to injury), the Pacers have struggled recently with the return of their star player. Indiana only has one win in their last seven games, and that victory came against the lowly Chicago Bulls in overtime. Since that victory, the Pacers have suffered five straight losses. Furthermore, these losses for the Pacers have been close and gut-wrenching. During this stretch of bad games, Indiana has lost their by an average of 6.6 points per contest. They have played their hearts out in these games, but they have just failed to get the job done in the fourth quarter. It’s not all bad news in the Hoosier state though. The Pacers are still 31-22 on the season, and they are currently seeded sixth in the Eastern Conference playoff standings. Still, tonight’s game could have major implications when the postseason starts because the Nets are currently one spot behind the Pacers in the East.
Strangely enough, Indiana’s struggles seem to have started when Victor Oladipo returned to the lineup. The former number two overall pick has clearly had a difficult time rejoining the team. Oladipo has only played in five games for Indiana, but the team has posted a 1-4 record during that time. I am not placing all the blame for the Pacers’ recent woes on the former All-Star, but he has not really helped the team since his return to action. In his first five games back, Oladipo is averaging just 10.6 points per game on a shooting percentage of 28.1% from the field. It doesn’t take a mathematician to recognize that those are lousy numbers. The only positive takeaway from Oladipo’s recent outings is that he is showing signs of improvement. He has increased his scoring output and field goal percentage in every game he has played since February 1st. Oladipo is not going to be deciding factor in this game for the Pacers, but he will need to continue to improve on his game if Indiana hopes to cover the 6.5 point spread.
I believe the “X factor” in this game will be Domantas Sabonis, the Pacers’ current statistical leader. The 23 year old big man is having a breakout year. His 18.2 points per game and 12.6 rebounds per game are both career highs for the fourth year man out of Gonzaga. Furthermore, he has been excellent in two match-ups with the Nets this season. Against Brooklyn this year, he averages 22.5 points per game, 13 rebounds, and 3.5 assists. These double-double averages have led the Pacers to a pair of head-to-head victories over the Nets. On the other end, the player he matches up with for Brookyln, Taurean Prince, has been just dreadful against Indiana. Prince averages 7.5 points per game on 28.6% shooting in two games against the Pacers. It is pretty clear that Sabonis has dominated this matchup, and I don’t expect that to change tonight.
Brooklyn has been the “get right” team in the NBA this season. By that I mean, if your franchise is having problems, just go up against the Nets, and they will get things right. It is also worth noting that the Pacers have already won the first two head-to-head match-ups against the Nets in Brooklyn! I am sure the Pacer fans will bring it tonight, and Indiana will snap their five game losing streak behind an energized crowd that is hungry for a win. With that being said, I do not think they will be able to cover the 6.5 point spread.