Pacers-Thunder Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated December 08, 2012
Few NBA matchups this season might create a bigger styles clash than a game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Indiana Pacers. Oklahoma City's high-powered offense has it off to one of the league's best starts, while Indiana is relying on defense to stay afloat with its star player sidelined. The Thunder seek their eighth straight victory on Sunday night when they host the Pacers. They're 16-4 for the second straight year and tout the league's highest scoring offense (106.2 points per game). Oklahoma City has quickly silenced any doubts raised by the loss of reigning Sixth Man of the Year James Harden, averaging more points than last season (103.1 ppg). Kevin Durant is averaging 27.0 while shooting a career-best 51.5 percent from the floor and Russell Westbrook's 2.51 assist-to-turnover ratio is a personal best. Serge Ibaka's offense is starting to catch up to his defense, with his 14.5 ppg up 5.4 from last season and Kevin Martin - acquired from Houston in the Harden trade - is averaging 15.4 while shooting 37.8 percent from 3-point range. Everything starts with Durant and Westbrook, though, as seen in Oklahoma City's 114-108 home win against the Lakers on Friday night. Durant scored 36 and Westbrook hit a season-high 5 3-pointers while scoring 33, including 27 in the first half. The Thunder trailed by 2 with nine minutes left in the second but Westbrook closed the quarter with 14 points to put Oklahoma City up by 14 at halftime. "He has the ability to get hot," coach Scott Brooks said. "We have some guys on our team that have the ability to do that and he was the one in that first half." A late 27-12 Lakers run may have made the final score deceptively close, but the Thunder spent most of the game running them off the floor. Oklahoma City held a 28-8 advantage in fast-break points and is one of the league's best squads in transition, averaging 16.7 on the break. "We are good at home at pushing the ball and I think we did a good job tonight," Westbrook told the team's official website. The Pacers (10-10) have struggled to score as much as any team, averaging 90.7 points. Indiana averaged 101.6 from 2007-08 through last season, but those numbers came with Danny Granger as the leading scorer each year. Granger has missed the entire season with a left knee injury and isn't expected back until at least February. Without Granger, Indiana has needed stingy defense to stay competitive. They've gotten it so far, ranking among the league leaders in scoring defense (91.2). "They play defense the best in the league," Brooks told the Thunder's official website. "They challenge, they're physical, they put their bodies on you and they rebound the ball very well." Still, it's not always enough. The Pacers lost 92-89 at home against Denver on Friday as George Hill missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer - a shot that normally would come from Granger. Indiana needs a better contribution from center Roy Hibbert, whose 38.0 percent field-goal shooting is a career worst and his 9.8 ppg are his fewest since he averaged 7.1 as a rookie. "Just got to keep working," Indiana coach Frank Vogel told the team's website. "He's a good player, he doesn't want to shoot 3 for 10." Durant scored 44 on 15-of-24 shooting in the Pacers' 103-98 win over the Thunder on April 6. Durant is averaging 30.0 points in nine career contests against Indiana.
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