Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves - Indiana Pacers

INDIANAPOLIS, IN -- The Indiana Pacers have been playing fantastic basketball as of late. After starting the season with an 0-3 record, the Pacers have gone 5-1 in their last six games. This momentum could be tested tonight as the Pacers will be without both Myles Turner and Rodney Stuckey.

The Timberwolves have had a different start to their season. Minnesota started the season with a 2-0 record, but they have gone 2-4 in their past six games. Indiana has won two consecutive games, meanwhile, Minnesota has lost two consecutive games.

Indiana and Minnesota have almost identical records on the season. Indiana is 5-4 and the Timberwolves are 4-4. Interestingly enough, the Timberwolves are 0-4 at home, but are 4-0 on the road. Indiana is 3-2 at home and 2-2 on the road, which is typical for a slightly above .500 team. Minnesota is certainly not a team that the Pacers can afford to sleep on, especially considering the fact that they have already gotten impressive wins over top Eastern Conference teams (Miami Heat, Atlanta Hawks, and Chicago Bulls).

Both teams are dealing with a few injuries at the current moment. The only reported injuries by the Pacers are quite clear. Rodney Stuckey (right ankle sprain) and Myles Turner (left thumb chip fracture) have both already been declared out for this game. Meanwhile, for the Timberwolves, Andrew Wiggins (sore right knee) is questionable, Ricky Rubio (left hamstring) is questionable, and Nikola Pekovic (Achilles surgery) is out.

The Pacers are expected to go with their small-ball rotation since they currently have a shortage of big men. That isn't the only reason, they favor their matchup against Minnesota with this type of rotation.

With the Pacers main scorers from their bench unit out, they will need as much from their starters that they can get. Paul George seems to be where they will get the most consistency and volume contributions on both sides of the ball. George is averaging 23.8 points per game, but he has scored 26 plus points in five consecutive games. George's defense has been great as well. According to NBA.com/stats, George is forcing opposing players to shoot 6.8 percent below their overall shooting average. 

Tonight would be a great night for Monta Ellis to snap out of his offensive slump. Ellis has averaged 19.0 points over the past three seasons prior to joining the Pacers, but he is averaging just 11.3 points so far this season. His efficiency has been out of whack as well. Ellis is shooting a dismal 36.0 percent from the field this season, for reference, he shot 44.5 percent from the field last season. Ellis was brought in to be one of the team's top offensive producers, but he has yet to reach that level of production. Of course it takes time to get used to new teammates, a new system and a new coaching staff, but now would be great for him to get back to his typical level of production.

Indiana's team from the top to the bottom has bought into their defensive first approach so far this season. With the Pacers missing some key offensive players, that will be extra important tonight. Minnesota doesn't have a ton of offensive firepower on their team, but they can't afford to allow any spectacular offensive performances like last season. Even the most unexpected players can go off on any given night, Minnesota made that was clear last season when Mo Williams scored 52 points against the Pacers.

Minnesota likes to attack off the dribble and create offense with their play-makers by finding holes in the opposing team's defense. That means that the Pacers will have to be disciplined with their help-defensive rotations and stay active when their man doesn't have the ball. Minnesota doesn't have a lot of perimeter shooting threats, so identifying the shooters and then packing the paint when a shooter isn't the assignment should help drastically. With the Pacers going with a small-ball rotation, defensive speed shouldn't be an issue since everyone has been committed on defense.

From an offensive stand-point, the Pacers need to get to the rim more often in this game. They have relied on mid-range shooting and perimeter shooting far too much, now it is time to take drives all the way to the rim instead of pulling up. Rodney Stuckey and Myles Turner are the most efficient shooters on the team so far - they are two of three Pacers shooting above 50 percent from 3-to-10 feet, and are the only Pacers shooting over 30 percent from 10-to-16 feet (they are shooting above 50 percent). 

George Hill has been the only efficient three-point shooter at 45.8 percent this season. So it is quite simple, they need to get to the rim. This is especially the case when you factor in the fact that literally every Pacers player is shooting above 55.5 percent from three feet in. So avoiding to pull up for mid-range jumpers with their two most efficient mid-rangers shooters out is a wise idea. 

Even the Pacers best offensive player (Paul George) should take some notes on their efficiency from the start of the season. Now to be fair, George takes a considerably large amount of fadeaways from that 10-16 feet range so that tanks his percentage, so perhaps cutting back on the fadeaways is the best way to go. George shouldn't hold back on perimeter attempts since he has been gaining momentum since their 0-3 start, but he shouldn't rely on it either. He needs to get to the rim more to set the precedent for his teammates though, that is something that he hasn't been doing a lot of as he has lived and died by the jumper.

Indiana simply needs to focus on executing the fundamentals in this game; taking care of the basketball, getting to the rim, executing on open shot attempts, getting quality rebounding positioning, making quick defensive rotations, and simply being aware of the skills of individual assignments.

The Pacers have the talent on both sides of the ball to get an easy win tonight, but they have to be smart about how they play. That was discussed regarding the offensive side of the ball, but that applies for the defense too. Their defense has been noticeably getting better with their communication and team rotations, which will need to happen in tonight's game as well. Handling individual assignments shouldn't be a problem since the Pacers all have quality matchups, but they will just need to stay aware of their man's skillset to not give up anything easy or comfortable.

Pacers expected starting lineup: George Hill, Monta Ellis, C.J. Miles, Paul George and Ian Mahinmi.

Timberwolves expected starting lineup: Ricky Rubio, Andrew Wiggins, Tayshaun Prince, Kevin Garnett and Karl-Anthony Towns.

Tip-off for this game is at 7:00 P.M. EST. This game will be played at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana. This game can be viewed on NBA League Pass, as well as on Fox Sports Indiana. The radio broadcast will be on 1070 FM and 93.5 FM for local area Indianapolis listeners.

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