Fast Forward: Pacers present Warriors with measuring stick

Fast Forward: Pacers present Warriors with measuring stick
January 20, 2014, 2:15 pm
Share This Post

After splitting two games with the Warriors last season, the Pacers come into Oracle Monday night as one of the league's hottest teams. (USATSI)

Programming note: Pacers-Warriors coverage begins Monday at 7 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area (territorial restrictions apply)

OAKLAND – It's the game that climaxes the NBA's annual daylong national TV marathon in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It's against the team with the best record, and best defense, in the league. And it's on the Warriors' home court.

There may not be a game better suited for the Warriors to take full measure of themselves than that which they will play on Monday night against Indiana.

The individual battles between members of each starting lineup are some of the meatiest the league has to offer. There are the two 7-foot centers, Andrew Bogut for the Warriors and Roy Hibbert for the Pacers. There are All-Star-caliber power forwards David Lee (Warriors) and David West (Pacers). There are elite wings Andre Iguodala and Paul George, talented shooting guards Klay Thompson and Lance Stephenson and two point guards, Stephen Curry and George Hill, who are physical reflections of each other.

[RELATED: Pacers' West fined for elbow at Clips' Griffin]

The matchup presents a rebuilt Warriors team in the midst of reshaping its image as a defensive cipher testing itself against an opponent with an established core group and an unsurpassed defensive presence.

"They've kept their same group together for years,'' Bogut said Monday. "Their core group has stayed together. They have a defensive-minded coach. They're playing out East, where it's much more defensively oriented. They've bought into a system, and it works for them.

"They have a good mix of youth and veterans. They're a team built for a championship.''

Whereas the Warriors (26-16) were the league's hottest team two weeks ago, that distinction now belongs to the Pacers (32-7), who have won their last four games by an average of 23.2 points. They are on pace to become the first NBA team since Dallas in 2006-07 to win 67 games.

"I feel like every game is a good one for us,'' Stephenson told Indianapolis reporters. "We're playing together, we're playing smart and we don't care who scores.''

Simply put, the Warriors have not seen a better team – in every sense of the word – this season.

"It's a very in-sync group of guys,'' Iguodala said. "You try to pinpoint one guy, or you try to say they have a superstar player, but they all compliment each other really well. Each part makes the other part equally effective and dangerous.''

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Iguodala vs. George. As juicy as it gets, a superior wing defender against a terrific wing scorer. George – whose first oral commitment out of high school was to Santa Clara – is tough to contain because he's fantastic in transition. To have a reasonable chance to win this battle, 'Dre will have to make the Indy star put in work on the other end.

Bogut vs. Hibbert. Two classic centers, neither remarkably athletic but both smart, massive presences in the paint. And both specialize in defense. Bogut may try to pull Hibbert away from the hoop, but that doesn't mean it'll work. These two could combine for 10 blocks.

Lee vs. West. This is a contrast in styles, with Lee being a solid rebounder and a multidimensional offensive threat, while West relies on physicality and positioning. West has a much higher aptitude – and attitude – for defense. Lee's best chance at success is to coax West into space.

LAST 10: Warriors, 7-3; Pacers 8-2.

SERIES HISTORY: The teams split two games last season. The Warriors have not swept a season series against the Pacers since 2000-01 but have won five of the last six meetings at Oracle.

INJURY UPDATE: Centers Jermaine O'Neal (right wrist surgery) and Festus Ezeli (right knee surgery), and guard Nemanja Nedovic (strained left hamstring), are out for the Warriors.

The Pacers reported no significant injuries.

More Team Talk