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Preview: George and Durant set to duel as Thunder plan for Pacers

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PG and KD are the largest point guards in the NBA.

Some people have big expectations for Cameron Payne....
Some people have big expectations for Cameron Payne....
W. Bennett Berry

The Pacers didn't roll into the season with a ton of expectations, but 2015-16 had been very kind to the team. Paul George was able to return from injury, and basically assume his former level of play. Furthermore, rookie center Myles Turner has been a huge boon for Indiana, averaging 12 points a game since becoming the starter. SB Nation recently had rookie week, and here's what C.Cooper of Indy Cornrows found remarkable about Myles Turner:

Turner, even while sharing the floor with several established veterans and a three-time All-Star, is responsible for a larger portion of Indiana's offense than either of the Davis Boys as rookies. When comparing him to Rik Smits, the other player who used at least 20 percent of his teams possessions while on the court, the Blue & Gold's current first-year player (54.0%) is only a shade less efficient (55.7%). However, the Dunking Dutchman was predominantly feasting on post-ups and hook shots while Turner can most often be found draining mid-range and turnaround jump shots. Notably, the 19-year-old's average field goal distance (10.7 feet) is significantly greater than the other names mentioned, which makes his ability to shoot the ball consistently, with range, at his size all the more rare in the annals of team history as well as valuable for today's Pacers.

Myles Turner is already one of the best 19-year-old shot blockers ever.

Now he's posting a higher block percentage than Indiana's three top career-blocks leaders did during their respective rookie seasons.

Those numbers are certainly very promising, especially for an Indiana team that hasn't had a difference-making big since the days of Jermaine O'Neal. Indeed, Myles Turner certainly made the Thunder pay the last time these two teams met. Turner hit his first career NBA three deep in the fourth quarter, helping secure an Indiana victory. From the field, Turner was 7 of 12. With Adams on the floor it's doubtful that Turner will become a real offensive force, but he can definitely make Adams pay for protecting the rim.

Indiana has other superstars to deal with as well. Here's how the Thunder handled Monta Ellis and Paul George last time, courtesy of my recap:

Monta Ellis did a number on Kyle Singler and Dion Waiters tonight, scoring 27 points on 10 of 16 shooting. If Andre Roberson were in the lineup, it certainly would have been a different story. But the Thunder just didn't have anyone who could bother Ellis around screens.

...

As a team, the Thunder assumed the strategy of doubling George around every screen. With George fresh off an All-Star performance where he nearly set a scoring record, the Thunder's strategy made sense. I mean, George barely has more assists than he does turnovers.

But the strategy backfired a little bit. George shot 6 of 14, which is about the best you can hope for on any given night. But the real failure was that George ended up using the pressure to his advantage. I mean, George dished a season high 10 assists, and only turned the ball over twice.

Since that game, George hasn't tallied more than 6 assists in any one contest. So the Thunder's defense of Paul George was rather unusual. George's assists at the time were mainly to bigs, and I think his success in that area will continue. OKC's bigs can get hurt by floor spacers sometimes, and Indiana is a team with a shooter at every position.

The defense of Monta Ellis is the real key. At this point in his career, Ellis is an amazing physical specimen. 30 years old, and he still has the same quickness and athleticism that made him so exciting to watch as a rookie. Ellis shooting has really improved over the years though, making him a serious weapon off the ball and in transition. Here's the good news, though.  With the Mavs in three games last year, Monta Ellis shot at 40% or below when facing Andre Roberson. In one game against Waiters and Singler, Ellis shot 60%. So Roberson's long arms could really, really help the Thunder out tonight.

Recent times for OKC have been extremely uplifting. The past three games haven't even been close, with the Thunder securing comfortable fourth quarter victories over the Trail Blazers, Celtics, and 76ers. But those victories didn't erase the memory of the Thunder's horrible 4-8 post-all-star disaster. There are still a lot of questions about this team's ability to find consistent bench lineups and close the fourth quarter.

For Donovan's part, the past three games have shown some flexibility. Bench point guard Cameron Payne, long thought to be in the doghouse, got regular time in all three of the Thunder's recent blowouts. Payne's numbers haven't exactly been inspiring over the stretch, with averages of 5 points and 3 assists in primarily garbage time. But we have seen flashes of that greatness, especially in terms of finding other players in pressure situations. I particularly would like to see Kanter and Payne work on more pick and roll, given that they'll play together a lot. That play has struggled to work in the past. But if Payne can regularly make his floater, I have no doubt the Payne/Kanter pick and roll works.

However, Donovan is also determined to stagger Durant and Westbrook. Furthermore, we continue to see Durant in point guard-like situations. Durant's turnovers are down, but it's still hard to see him operating the offense for long stretches. Durant at PG could work during specific situations. But tonight I hope the Thunder stay away, with Indiana forcing the 6th most turnovers from their opponents in the NBA.

The Thunder's three seed appears to be secure, with the Clippers hitting a bit of a rough patch. But a win now would go a long way to proving the Thunder's legitimacy. The Pacers are one of the teams who started this post all-star sting, so now it's time to get revenge.

The Thunder will be on the second night of a back-to-back, and Dion Waiters will be playing in his third game since the tragic death of his younger brother. The Pacers have Ian Mahinmi and Ty Lawson as questionable for tonight. The Pacers aren't very deep, so both of those guys would be huge. Ty Lawson in particular might be a great counter to Westbrook. Last time, against George Hill, Westbrook was able to shoot 10 of 16, with 18 assists and 2 turnovers.

Still, OKC should be able to pull this one out as long as they take care of the ball. The Thunder's offense is better, and they can protect the rim more effectively.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 109, Indiana Pacers 98.

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

2015-16 NBA Season Game 70
@
47-22
(Won 3)

36-32
(Lost 1)
March 22nd, 2016
The Toyota Center, Houston, Texas
6:00 PM Central Standard Time
TV: Turner Network Television Only
Injury Report: Kevin Durant (Questionable), Kyle Singler (
This Season's Matchups: Feb 19 (L 98-101)
Probable Starters
Russell Westbrook PG George Hill
Andre Roberson SG Monta Ellis
Kevin Durant SF Paul George
Serge Ibaka PF Jordan Hill
Steven Adams C Myles Turner