The Indiana Pacers have won six in a row to start the season. The Brooklyn Nets have won their first two games at home and their last four matchups against the Pacers. Three of our writers roundtable on tonight’s matchup, looking at tonight’s X-Factors and making predictions.
1. The X-Factor for the Indiana Pacers is…
- Devin Kharpertian: Interior defense. Roy Hibbert’s one of the league’s best at defending the paint, allowing opponents to shoot just 34.8% on him when he’s defending the rim, and he’s the anchor of the team’s NBA-best defense. He’ll have a handful tonight in defending Brook Lopez, but if he can keep Lopez contained while piling up his league-leading 4.7 blocks per game, the Pacers could make this vaunted Nets offense look silly.
- William Rausch: Roy Hibbert. One would assume undefeated Indiana’s burgeoning superstar Paul George will get his tonight, but if Roy Hibbert can establish an inside offensive presence, the Nets will suffer their first home loss of the season. Before scoring 20 points last night against the Raptors, Hibbert hadn’t scored more than 11 points in the Pacers’ first five games. The defensive stalwart will also be called upon to slow down the best Nets player so far this season, Brook Lopez. The Nets swept the Pacers in all three games last season, thanks in no small part to Lopez’s 21.3 points per game in those matchups.
- Max Weisberg: Roy Hibbert. Cinco-Cinco has been outrageous on the defensive end this season. The Pacers are giving up an absurd 81.4 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor this season compared to 97.7 with him off it. Though Paul George is the team’s early MVP candidate, Hibbert may just be Indiana’s most indispensable player. His +22.9 net rating ranks him 3rd among players with five or more games started, and his 4.7 blocks per game leads the entire NBA.
2. The X-Factor for the Brooklyn Nets is…
- Devin Kharpertian: Interior defense. See what I did there? Truth is, Brook Lopez has been as effective as an individual defender as Hibbert this season, allowing opponents to shoot just 31.8% on him at the rim and stuffing opponents in post-ups. He’s still well behind Hibbert in help defense instincts and defending opponents outside of the paint, but if Lopez and Kevin Garnett can keep the paint locked down, the Nets may be able to grind out a victory against a grinding Pacers team.
- William Rausch: Don’t Fall Apart on Me, Tonight. Picking a Dylan song didn’t work out that well last night, so maybe a more obscure song from the poet laureate of rock-and-roll will help. How this elderly — er, experienced — Nets team would fare on the back end of back-to-backs was a major concern entering the season. Can NBAARP players such as Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, who are already not playing well, perform after an OT game last night? If they can’t, the Nets will end up at 2-4 and on Desolation Row, at least according to fans prone to overreaction.
- Max Weisberg: Kevin Garnett. Garnett hasn’t looked good in his first five games as a Nets leader, shooting just 30.4% from the field and averaging just over nine points per 36 minutes. He’s known as a jump shooter these days, but has taken just five shots in the restricted area compared to 32 mid-range shots. These numbers are bound to get better as the season moves along, but they’re concerning considering Garnett’s age. Oh, and: will he even play tonight??
3. And the winner is…
- Devin Kharpertian: Indiana. I like this pick less than you do, but they’ve played better than any team in basketball so far, and they’ve shown no signs of allowing anyone to speed them up.
- William Rausch:Nets 92, Pacers 91. They can’t start the season 2-4. Right? Right?!
- Max Weisberg: Nets, 90-87. The Nets have been so inconsistent this season that a win tonight would only make sense.