Dec 21, 2012; Cleveland, OH, USA; Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert (55) defends a shot by Cleveland Cavaliers power forward Tristan Thompson (13) in the fourth quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Indiana Pacers (40-26) vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (22-44) Preview

The Cleveland Cavaliers (22-44) seem to have hit a tough snag in their schedule, losing six of their past eight games against teams with a combined record of 293-234 (.556). The stretch doesn’t get easier this week, as Cleveland matches up against the Indiana Pacers (40-26), Miami Heat (51-14) and Houston Rockets (36-31) on Monday, Wednesday and Friday respectively. Since losing Kyrie Irving for what looks like the rest of the season two Sundays ago, Cleveland knew that the final month-plus left in the regular season would be an uphill challenge. With two more contests against the Pacers, Heat and the Boston Celtics, the final 16 games of the season will tell a lot about this team’s future:

Opponent’s Blog: Always Miller Time

Venue: Quicken Loans Arena – Cleveland

Tipoff: Monday, March 18 at 7 p.m.

Betting Line: Pacers by -7.5

Where you can watch: Fox Sports Ohio

Where you can listen: WTAM (1100 AM), WFUN (970 AM)

Without Kyrie in the lineup, the Cavaliers will have an extremely difficult time funneling their offense through just one player. The go-to guy thus far has been Dion Waiters, who has earned back-to-back Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month honors for the months of January and February. Arguably the best defensive squad in the league in the Pacers won’t let the points come easy for Dion, who has averaged 18.7 points in the three games that Irving has recently missed. With the possibility of backup shooting guard Wayne Ellington being out, the Cavaliers could be up for one of their worst offensive performances in some time.

Tristan Thompson may be the x-factor in leading the Cavaliers to victory, as starting power forward for the Pacers David West, who is currently averaging 17.3 points and 7.7 rebounds, will be out nursing a lower back sprain according to Roto Wire. Danny Granger will also be out of the lineup. Thompson will instead go head-to-head with Tyler Hansbrough – a player who has had his production and minutes diminish over the past three seasons. With Thompson playing some of the most consistent minutes on the team, it’s important that he takes advantage of the situation at hand.

Despite the athleticism that Indiana has in players like George Hill and Paul George, the Pacers will likely take advantage of the experience between Roy Hibbert and rookie Tyler Zeller. Zeller has looked frantic and scared while matched up against premier and veteran big men. Although Zeller is just a rookie, he is by far having the most trouble adjusting to the NBA among rookies and young bigs.

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Tags: Cleveland Cavaliers Dion Waiters Indiana Pacers Tristan Thompson Tyler Zeller

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