Last season the Pacers handed the Wolves one of their toughest losses of the pre-Unicorn Knee Explosion era, roughing up Our Beloved Puppies in every which way imaginable. Kevin Love was none too pleased:
"I've said all along," Love said, "I don't like the Pacers."
Love and Pacers forward Danny Granger almost came to blows with 23.7 seconds remaining the third quarter after Love was whistled for a foul and Granger approached him aggressively.
Players bumped into each other, with Michael Beasley and Martell Websterhelping separate the pair. But like just about every fight in the NBA, it was all talking and no punching.
"I know that none of them were going to do anything," said Love, who finished with 21 points. "Just play ball. It's part of the game -- a hard foul, everybody is getting fouled out there."
The escalating feud between the two teams extends back to last season, when they split a pair of physical contests with each team winning on their home court.
"(They think) they are so tough," Love said. "They take those pills and they got all that toughness. I don't know where that comes from. They all think they are tough guys. I just don't know where that comes from. It just blows my mind. They are all tough and that makes me laugh."
The teams won't play each other again until April 16 at Indiana, but it appears Love is already looking forward to it.
"I guarantee the next time we play them, it will be just as physical," he said.
Unfortunately for Knuckles, "next time" was a 23 point April loss with him watching from the bench.
The Pacers were one of the league's surprise teams last season, finishing with the 3rd seed in the Eastern Conference before bowing out to the Miami Heat in 6 games.
This year, the Pacers are facing some early season troubles with the loss of Danny Granger (for 3 months--they just signed Mikael Pietrus to fill his roster spot), the departure of Darren Collison, and some too-close-for-a-team-this-good games vs the Charlotte Bobcats and Sacramento Kings.
With Granger out for an extended period of time, Indy will have to rely on improved play from Paul George (currently leading the NBA in minutes played) and George Hill. Both players have played well (.123/.133 wp48) in a small sample size, but not nearly well enough to cause any opponent to shake in their boots or for their own team to build a strong point differential. George, Hill, and Roy Hibbert are their current Big Three.
What do the Pacers do well? In 5 games this year they have been able to keep their opponents from getting to the line (.155 ft/fga) while holding them to a .438 eFG, which is good for the 2nd best mark in the league.
On the other end of the court, the Pacers have had their issues. They have a 17% TO%, a horrific .439% eFG, and they don't get to the line enough to make up for all the missed shots and lost possessions. What they have been doing well is hitting the offensive glass, where they carry a 31.4% rate.
Overall, they currently sport a -7.42 SRS with a -2.4 O/Drtg differential. Then again, we're 5 games into the season and they got waxed by the Spurs, sooooooo....
What will I be looking for in tonight's game?
- Will the Wolves be able to field a competent backcourt against the gigantic duo of Hill and George? Even if J.J. Barea was healthy, this is a tough matchup on the perimeter. Can Andrei Kirilenko take George on a few possessions? Can Alexy Shved play increased minutes? Will Brandon Roy be able to handle George Hill?
- Will the front court be able to keep the Pacers off of the offensive glass? Again, the Pacers are really relying on their high oreb% to score points this year. They are missing a lot of shots. A big part of defense is grabbing all of those misses. Pek really needs to up his rebounding game if the Wolves want to win this tilt.
- Will AK47 continue to be the best player on either team on both ends of the court? He's off to quite the early season run. Can he keep it up against a team that will require him to guard several different players and perform several different tasks if the Wolves are to be competitive?