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Thunder vs. Pacers: Win, or Lose the Western Conference (2011-2012 Game 55 Preview)

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GAMETHREAD at 6! If you miss this game, the Thunder will lose! Don't become the bad luck charm of OKC, and come discuss the game with us tonight!

Records: The Oklahoma City Thunder (40-14) vs. The Indiana Pacers (33-21)

Time: 6:00 PM Central Standard Time

Place: The Banker's Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Indiana

TV: Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Fox Sports Network Indiana

Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1), 93.1 WIBC

Enemy Blog(s): Eight Points, Nine Seconds, Indy Cornrows

Previous Meeting(s): None!

The Spurs have been absolutely blazing through the Western Conference, winning their last 9 games and going 12-1 in their last 13. As a result, the Thunder, who have endured a couple of losses in their tough schedule, now have their backs against the wall. After losing two games in a row for the first time since January and with the Spurs facing a pushover opponent tonight, the Thunder must now win in order to keep the conference lead. Unfortunately, they have to do it....against the third seeded Indiana Pacers, who are in a Eastern Conference playoff run of their own.

In case you've been under a rock concerning Eastern Conference news, the Pacers got good this season because of the continued improvement of Roy Hibbert, and the acquisitions of David West, George Hill, and Leandro Barbosa. Danny Granger is their go to guy on offense, and while he's a far cry from the NBA's superstars, he has a much stronger supporting cast.

The Thunder lost to the Heat on Wednesday because they couldn't take care of the ball, but luckily, the Pacers are one of the league's worst teams at taking care of and distributing the ball. Darren Collison and George Hill are great players, but as point guards they're largely focused on scoring, and they work best when creating for themselves. Other guys on the team mostly create for themselves with isolation plays on the wing or back to the basket post play, so it only becomes a problem when they can't create for themselves.

Another flaw with the Pacer's play is how Frank Vogel always sticks to certain rotations, very rarely deviating from a pre-set scheme. This also leads to the team "playing their own game" and failing to address matchup advantages. Basically, this means the Thunder will be able to exploit Westbrook's size advantage on Darren Collison, get a few easy mid-range shots against Hibbert, et cetera.

What the Pacers do well is attack the basket, which the Thunder aren't exactly good at defending. Our help defense has been on and off all season, and Westbrook isn't fast enough to keep up with a guy like Collison flying towards the basket. The Pacers are third in league free throws attempted, so expect them to stay alive during offensive dry spells by getting to the line.

All in all, the outcome of this game should be determined by how well each team can make adjustments. Both teams are talented enough to win the NBA title this season (indeed, both of them have defeated the Heat and Bulls), but they encounter serious trouble when the other team presents matchup problems, and can't adjust well. As we've seen during the past two games, the Thunder can't win when their stars aren't performing or when their mediocre ball distribution is exploited, and there's no easy solution to the problem. The Pacers are more multi-faceted and have solutions to their matchup problems, but they also have a conservative coach who is cautious towards experimentation.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 101, Indiana Pacers 98