A day after a brouhaha between the Pacers and the Warriors escalated and even briefly spilled into the stands, Stephen Curry put on a performance for the ages in Madison Square Garden, lighting up the Knicks to the tune of 54 points. On Thursday, Indiana gets its chance to put the ugly incident behind them when they host the Clippers in the first meeting of the season between the two teams.
They will be without the services of Roy Hibbert, who was suspended one game for his role in the fight. As a result, expect a big role for Ian Mahinmi, the reserve center the Pacers picked up for from the Mavericks in the off-season. Mahinmi, an athletic marvel at 6'11 230, isn't the most skilled player in the world, but he should be able to match-up with DeAndre Jordan, the Clippers ultra-athletic (but still raw) big man.
The ugly incident Tuesday overshadowed another strong performance from Indiana, which has won five straight games even while breaking Danny Granger back into the lineup. The Pacers star has struggled mightily in his first two games this season, scoring a grand total of seven points. For now, he is coming off the bench, as Frank Vogel has not wanted to interfere with the chemistry his starting five has created without Granger.
L.A., meanwhile, comes into Indianapolis on a tear, having won six of their last seven games. Their lone loss, though, was troubling, a 36-point drubbing at the hands of the Spurs. It renewed concerns about the Clippers ability to execute in the half-court and play consistent defense against an elite team, which proved to be their undoing in last year's playoffs when they were swept out of the second round by San Antonio.
A Battle Of Styles
With Hibbert out, the key matchup in the frontcourt will come between Blake Griffin and David West. There aren't two All-Stars at the same position with more disparate games than Griffin, the high-flying young dynamo, and West, the floor-bound veteran.
West, one of the most unsung players in the NBA, has been a key to Indiana's success without Granger this season. At 6'9 240, he plays a bit like Paul Pierce, using an extensive array of pump fakes and impeccable footwork to create open mid-range shots. He's averaging 17 points, eight rebounds and three assists on 49 percentshooting this season.
Griffin, in contrast, is one of the most athletic big men in NBA history. While West makes his living below the rim, there's no one in basketball who can consistently make plays above the rim more than the Clippers All-Star. Griffin's per-game numbers are down, but he's having his best season as a pro from an efficiency standpoint, averaging 21 points, 10 rebounds and four assists on 54 percent shooting.
If L.A. can turn the game into a track meet, West will have no chance to keep up, but if Indiana can slow the pace to a crawl, you can expect the Pacers frontline to try to turn the game into a battle of attrition in the paint.
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