Indiana Pacers vs Houston Rockets Preview
The Pacers are coming off of a massively disappointing game against the Miami Heat in which they lost by 22 points while shooting just 28.6% from 3-point range and just 39.3% from the field. They lost to the Heat handily in every notable category – rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, etc. However, Indiana has fielded one of the better teams in the Orlando bubble as the Pacers had surged to a 4-1 record in their first five games before dropping the contest against Miami. T.J. Warren had a particularly bad game against the Heat as he produced just 12 points on 5-14 shooting. Don’t let that fool you, though, because Warren had been making a strong case for bubble MVP prior to that poor effort. Warren will look to return to his previously elite scoring rate in this matchup against Houston.
The Rockets also had a sizable loss in their last game, although they were without their superstar guard James Harden. Harden was taking this game off as it was the first in a back-to-back set. Despite their 18-point loss to the Spurs, there were some positive takeaways from the game for Houston, most notably the return of Russell Westbrook. The All-Star guard made his return against San Antonio and looked good as he put up 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists in 28 minutes. The Rockets struggled from deep against the Spurs as they connected on just 14 of their 48 3-point attempts, a 29.2% clip. Austin Rivers fell back to earth for Houston in their last game as he only scored 13 points after a 41-point outburst against the Sacramento Kings.
Both of these teams still have plenty to play for in this game as their seeding positions in their respective conferences are not yet finalized. The Pacers are just one game behind the Heat for the #4 seed, which isn’t so significant as the #4 seed and #5 seed will match up in the first round with no home-court advantage. The Pacers do need to be worried about the 76ers who are just one game behind them for the #5 seed. Indiana likely prefers a first-round matchup with the Heat over the Celtics, the current #3 seed. Meanwhile, the Rockets are in danger of dropping to the #5 seed rather than the #4 seed, which isn’t a major issue as their first-round opponent would be the Thunder or the Jazz either way. This should be an exciting inter-conference battle between two playoff-bound teams.
Time: 4:00 PM ET
Arena: ESPN Wide World of Sports Arena, Orlando, FL
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Pacers: Victor Oladipo (questionable), T.J. Warren (out), Malcolm Brogdon (questionable), Myles Turner (questionable), Domantas Sabonis (out)
Rockets: Danuel House (probable), Eric Gordon (probable)
Pacers Starting 5
I couldn’t possibly feel less confident projecting the Pacers’ starting lineup for this game with all of the injuries to their key players. Of course, Domantas Sabonis is not currently with the team in Orlando as he is receiving treatment on his injured left leg. In his absence, T.J. Warren has taken over as the leading scorer on the team and then some – He was averaging about 35 points per game on 61% shooting from the field before his poor performance against the Heat. That tough outing was likely the result of a sore right foot he has been dealing with that will keep him out of this game. In his absence, the Pacers will reportedly start Justin Holiday, a 9-year veteran who is averaging 8.1 points per game this season.
The rest of the Pacers’ starting lineup appears to be the same, despite questionable tags for three other starters in Brogdon, Oladipo, and Turner. The only sure thing for this game, other than Justin Holiday, is his brother Aaron. To my knowledge, this would be the first time two brothers have started for the same team since Markieff and Marcus Morris shared the floor in Phoenix, although please feel free to correct me in the comments. Aaron Holiday has averaged 11.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game for the Pacers in the bubble. Malcolm Brogdon is questionable with a neck issue that he has been playing through and that is expected to remain the case on Wednesday. Myles Turner hasn’t missed a game in Orlando for the Pacers, but if he is unable to play things could get funky for Indiana as Goga Bitadze, the only other true center on the roster, has a limit of 10 minutes per game right now due to his knee issues.
The Pacers will be hoping Malcolm Brogdon and Victor Oladipo play as they will be their preferred defenders for Russell Westbrook and James Harden. The great thing for Indiana is they can throw a variety of wing defenders at the Rockets with their projected starting lineup featuring three high-level perimeter defenders. Even Aaron Holiday has a 6’7.5″ wingspan at point guard. It will be interesting to see how much Myles Turner plays if he does take the court as the Rockets don’t run with a traditional center.
Rockets Starting 5
James Harden is projected to make his return to the lineup after resting the first of two back-to-back games for the team. With Russell Westbrook back in the lineup as well, the Rockets will benefit from the first time their pair of All-Star guards have shared the floor in three games. It will be interesting to see how the backcourt matchups end up for the Rockets as the most threatening players in the Pacers’ lineup are their guards in Malcolm Brogdon and Victor Oladipo. While the Pacers’ star guards are solid two-way players, neither Harden nor Westbrook profile as high-level stoppers. Luckily for the Rockets, Danuel House will be making his return from injury in this game and will be able to match up with one of the Pacers’ guards. House is a proficient defender who is shooting 3-pointers at a 36.3% clip, down from 41.6% last season.
The Rockets will also have their go-to frontcourt combination available with Robert Covington and P.J. Tucker. Both Covington and Tucker are high-level defenders who have the versatility and tenacity to guard opponents who are bigger than them. Luckily for these two, the Pacers don’t present any particularly tough frontcourt matchups. Justin Holiday is projected to start in place of T.J. Warren, and Holiday will be operating primarily on the perimeter where Covington is most comfortable. I would expect to see some of Covington Oldaipo or Brogdon if Harden or Westbrook is struggling with their individual matchup. Covington is averaging 1.5 steals and 2.2 blocks per game since joining the Rockets. P.J. Tucker is in his third year in Houston and is being asked to play center for the first time, a job he has performed admirably. At just 6’5″, he’s far from your typical center in terms of physical profile, but his defensive versatility, three-point shooting, and athleticism have warranted the switch to him at the five.
Pacers vs Rockets Fantasy Basketball Angle
For the Pacers, Justin Holiday at $3,500 on FanDuel and $3,600 on DraftKings is an interesting play with the veteran wing getting the start in place of T.J. Warren. Victor Oladipo at $5,700 on FanDuel and $6,000 on DraftKings is likely undervalued with the added usage he will get in lieu of Warren.
For the Rockets, I’m back in on James Harden who, despite being one of the highest-priced players on both platforms, is still a great value with his elite play. I would also consider Austin Rivers at $5,500 on FanDuel and $4,800 on DraftKings as he’ll likely have limited ownership and has a chance to outperform expectations if Houston decides to give its key players fewer minutes than expected.
Pacers vs Rockets Betting Odds
Pacers Moneyline: +255
Pacers Spread: +7.0
Rockets Moneyline: -280
Rockets Spread: -7.0
My betting picks: Rockets to win the game, Pacers against the spread, over 233 points
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