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All-Star game heroes re-unite in Thunder-Pacers throwdown

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Westbrook is coming off his second straight All-Star MVP, while Paul George is coming off the second highest scoring performance in All-Star history.

Imagine how big the body attached to that hand is.
Imagine how big the body attached to that hand is.
W. Bennett Berry

The Indiana Pacers made no moves at the trade deadline, and stand pat with their 28-21 squad. It's been a successful season for Indiana, whom has rebuilt a playoff team around Paul George. George basically sat out last season with a gruesome off-season injury, but has returned strong. This should be the most highest volume season of George's career, when it's all said and done. George's efficiency hasn't returned to prior levels, but he's close to them and being asked to do more than he was.

Despite all the offense that Paul George gives them, the Pacers are still a defense first team. Indiana ranks second in total defensive rating, and 22nd in total offensive rating. At the trade deadline, Indiana was mostly considering ways to improve their offense. One potential target was Jeff Teague of Atlanta. Here's what C. Cooper of Indy Cornrows had to say about a potential deal:

49.6: George Hill's field-goal percentage on catch-and-shoot three-pointers, the highest conversion rate in the league among those with at least 200 points off the catch. Given how Monta Ellis and Rajon Rondo's shared time in Dallas ended last season, this number matters. It really matters. Ellis is at his best when he is driving and dishing to his teammates on the perimeter and pulling-up for mid-range, elbow jumpers. Both require that he possess the basketball. And both indicate that he is better suited sharing the backcourt with an off-ball threat.

Teague is shooting a career-best 41.2 percent from three, but his best offensive skill is arguably his ability to get two feet in the paint and convert at the rim with aggressive drives (10.9 per game) and soft floaters. Sliding him next to Ellis and Paul George would either necessitate that someone make significant sacrifices or cause Indiana's offense to devolve further into "your turn-my turn" possessions.

This paragraph reveals a lot about Indiana's offense. With George Hill working as an off-ball guard, that means the offense is generally in the hands of Paul George or Monta Ellis. George and Ellis are adept scorers, but struggle to distribute the ball at the efficiency of a standard point guard. Indeed, as a team, the Pacers average the league's 6th least assists per game. This is despite running the league's 8th fastest pace.

Pacer weaknesses

Every Pacer seems to struggle with some sort of offensive inefficiency. Paul George shoots 43% from two, good for worst on the team. Every other Pacer is shooting under 35% from three, aside from George Hill. This includes Ellis, Stuckey, Miles, and Budinger, whom account for 11.5 three point attempts per game.

Another big weakness of the Pacers has been injuries. When healthy, this team has a really solid 9 man rotation. But five of those players have missed at least five games. The most severe cases were Rodney Stuckey (20 missed games) and Myles Turner (22 missed games). When the Pacers are forced to dig deeper into their roster, their weaknesses become more pronounced. Specifically, the loss of Stuckey removes a lot of the scoring punch from the Pacer bench. Meanwhile, the loss of Miles removes a lot of Indiana's ability to protect the rim. As it stands, the Pacers are in the lower half of the league when it comes to defending shots less than five feet from the rim.

Getting to know Myles Turner

Myles Turner has really emerged as a factor for Indiana in recent weeks. Over the past 12 games, Turner is averaging 15.5 points on 54% shooting. Additionally, Turner has started for the past 8 games. Unfortunately for the Pacers, Turner's recent offensive explosion has coincided with a rash of injuries for Ian Mahinmi. Mahinmi missed 6 of the Pacers most recent 12 games, during which time the Pacers went 2-4. Additionally, Jordan Hill went down with injury during the Pacers last game before the All-Star break. This left Indiana without a center on their bench, and the team ended up losing by 22 points.

Tonight, Steven Adams will have the job of shutting down Myles Turner. Turner does most of his work down low, possessing a soft touch near the rim and excellent timing off the pick and roll. But Turner also possesses a killer mid-range turnaround shot that can draw defenders into fouls. Adams will have to play a balancing act between shutting down the roll man while also covering Turner's shot. My guess is that Adams/Donovan elect to protect the paint, while Turner makes his money from mid-range.

Thunder dealz

The Thunder made a small splash at the deadline by trading D.J. Augustin, Steve Novak, and a 2017 second rounder to the Denver Nuggets for Randy Foye. Honestly, OKC didn't lose much. Augustin is a third string point guard at this point, having lost his backup job to Cameron Payne early in the season. Novak was never considered a part of the rotation.

What the Thunder receive, on the other hand, could be important. Randy Foye is a backup swingman that can theoretically fill the 3 and D role. I wrote an article pretty much campaigning for Foye, but I'll give you the gist of it here. Foye makes the open three pointers that he takes, and shoots well off of assists. In Denver, Foye was being asked to create. So when given a chance to work off-ball in OKC, he could be successful. Foye's defense is also on a very average level, and potentially more effective than that of Singler or Morrow. Lastly, Foye is an extremely adept passer for his position, and should do something to alleviate the Thunder's turnover problems.

Then again, it's entirely possible that Foye doesn't get minutes at all. The Thunder saved money this year, and Foye is an unrestricted free agent next year. Furthermore, Foye is having the least successful offensive season of his career (at 32 years old), so his days in the NBA may be numbered. Still, from my perspective, Foye has the potential to take Morrow's minutes right away. Ideally, I'd like Foye to take Singler's minutes when Roberson returns from injury.

Anyway, as it stands, Foye won't even know the Thunder's playbook if he does play tonight.

Paul George vs. Kevin Durant

The Paul George-Kevin Durant matchup at small forward will be what everybody's watching. The two superstars haven't met since Valentine's Day of 2014. But Durant holds the distinct advantage in six career meetings:

George is listed at the same height as KD, yet is also 20 pounds lighter. Durant's heavier weight certainly gives him an advantage when fighting for positioning, but might mean he's not as quick to defend the three. George is primarily a two point shooter, so this really plays out in KD's favor. Furthermore, KD is listed at a wingspan of 7 feet and 4.75 inches. Paul George is listed at a wingspan of 6 feet and 11.25 inches. Huge reach advantage for KD there.

It's fair to say that both Durant and George have changed their styles a bit since they met last. Regardless, with Westbrook clearing up so much space, it's hard not to see Durant not having the better game. George is fresh off scoring the second most points ever in an All-Star game though, so never say never.

How the game will go

This game is a chance for Thunder revenge. The Thunder lost to the Pacers in April of last year. It was a critical loss during a close playoff race, and it still stings. The whole thing felt bizarre, as Westbrook had a career-high 54 points, thrashing George Hill and C.J. Miles around screens and in transition. But the Thunder also had a franchise low free throw percentage. And C.J. Miles scored 30 points, which would tie his season high. Lots of weird occurrences for sure. But at the end of the day, the absences of Serge Ibaka and Kevin Durant were simply too much to bear.

The good news is that the Thunder were able to beat up on the Pacers back in February. OKC had Serge Ibaka that game, and he scored a critical 23 points with 10 rebounds. Ibaka will be up against Ian Mahinmi tonight though, so I wouldn't expect a repeat performance. Westbrook was equally sublime though, scoring a triple double on 8 of 19 shooting from the field. Stangely, it was also a great game for Waiters and Augustin off the bench, as the pair sparked a late fourth quarter run. On the Pacers' side of things, C.J. Miles had another oddly efficient game, shooting 9 of 14 from the floor for 21 points.

Tonight, the composition of the teams will be significantly different. But I think the big takeaways from last year are Westbrook's dominance, as well as Miles' ability to shoot the three. With the Pacer guards largely the same, Westbrook should be able to use his physicality to score. And Westbrook is hot right now, having just won his second All-Star MVP award this weekend. And with Roberson absent from the lineup, the Thunder will have trouble locking down C.J. Miles on the perimeter.

OKC is capable of winning this one by a fair margin. The offensive advantages are there. But with such a poor history of defending the three point line, the Thunder will likely be scrapping to keep ahead in the final moments of this game.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 109, Indiana Pacers 103.

What do you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!

2015-16 NBA Season Game 55
@
28-21
(Lost 1)

40-14
(Won 2)
February 19th, 2016
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
7:00 PM Central Standard Time
TV: Entertainment Sports Programming Network, Fox Sports Oklahoma, Fox Sports Indiana
Injury Report: Andre Roberson (Out), Ian Mahinmi (Probable), Jordan Hill (Questionable), Rodney Stuckey (Out)
Last Season's Matchups: Feb 24 (W 105-92), Apr 12 (L 104-116)
Probable Starters
George Hill PG Russell Westbrook
Monta Ellis SG Dion Waiters
Paul George SF Kevin Durant
Ian Mahinmi PF Serge Ibaka
Myles Turner C Steven Adams