Trail Blazers-Pacers Preview
By MATT BEARDMORE
(AP) -- The Portland Trail Blazers' bench has helped the team pick up its scoring - and get back into the win column - after a rough start to their longest trip of the season.
Ending that stretch with another strong effort could be asking a lot with the defensive-minded Indiana Pacers up next.
Portland looks to close out its seven-game trip with a third consecutive victory Wednesday night when Indiana returns home from its own successful road stretch.
The Blazers' reserves are averaging a league-low 14.8 points, and they totaled 57 as the team averaged 86.5 points on the first four games of its trip.
Portland's bench, though, is coming off its two best offensive games of the season. Two days after totaling 29 points in an 118-117 double-overtime victory over Cleveland, Luke Babbitt had nine of the bench's 31 points in Monday's 118-112 overtime win over Charlotte.
Babbitt made three 3-pointers, including a game-tying shot with 22 seconds left in the fourth period that capped Portland's rally from 18 down in that period.
"Luke was big," forward LaMarcus Aldridge said after the Blazers won two straight road games for the first time since seven consecutive victories spanning Feb. 5-March 8, 2011. "He played solid on defense and he was big for us. They were doubling the block so coach (Terry Stotts) wanted to put a shooter out there. You can't leave Luke out there open. He opened up the floor for us."
While the Pacers (9-9) should be aware of Babbitt setting up from beyond the arc, they should probably be more concerned about Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews and rookie Damian Lillard. They're a combined 39 for 113 from beyond the arc on the trip, and their 130 3s this season are more than 19 teams.
Indiana, though, is holding teams to 32.4 percent from long range, and it is among the league leaders in scoring defense (91.1 ppg) and field goal defense (40.6 percent). With Danny Granger likely out another two months with a left knee injury, the Pacers likely have to keep leaning on their defense since they're one of the lowest-scoring teams in the NBA with 90.3 points per game.
Paul George is coming off a season-best 34-point performance in Tuesday's 80-76 win over Chicago, but the Pacers' shooting percentage (36.3) was their worst in a victory since hitting 34.9 percent in an 81-76 win over Houston on Dec. 26, 2006.
Center Roy Hibbert posted his first double-double in four games on Tuesday with 10 points and 11 boards, but it was his block of Luol Deng in the final seconds of regulation that helped Indiana return home at .500 and complete a four-game road swing with three wins.
"That's my staple," said Hibbert, who has at least two blocks in each of the last 12 games. "If my offense isn't going, I always have to play defense."
That's going to be key against Aldridge, who is averaging 23.6 points and 9.4 rebounds since missing the Blazers' first game of the trip - a 98-85 loss to Brooklyn on Nov. 25 - with a stiff back.
Aldridge led the Blazers with 17 points in their last game versus Indiana, a 92-75 road loss on March 13. Portland was held to a season-low 20 field goals in that contest, and its five assists were an NBA low in 2011-12.
Indiana has won two straight in this series after dropping the previous five.
Updated December 5, 2012