Preview: Phoenix Suns (27-18) at Indiana Pacers (35-9)

Time: 5:00 p.m. MST




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The Phoenix Suns are on the verge of completing a rather rare feat — one they haven’t achieved since Feb. 2010.

With a victory Thursday night, Phoenix would complete its first sweep of a road trip lasting at least four games since the franchise’s riveting run to the Western Conference Finals four years ago.

To do so, though, Jeff Hornacek and Co. will have to pull off an even rarer feat: Become the first team in 2013-14 to beat the NBA’s top team, the Indiana Pacers, twice.

Only eight days removed from their nationally-televised 124-100 romp job over the Pacers, the Suns head into Bankers Life Fieldhouse trying to put the bow on what has already been a successful road trip away from US Airways Center, but the finishing touches might be hard to apply.

Aside from the obvious revenge factor, the Pacers managed to squeeze in a day of rest following a return from their own stretch of games played away from home (3-2), while the Suns will be playing their fourth game in five nights.

Couple in the fact that Indiana boasts the NBA’s best home record (21-1), and it appears Phoenix has quite a challenge on its hands if it wants to pull of some organizational history.

Here’s a look at three compelling questions going into Thursday’s non-conference affair:

Will the Suns become the second road team to score 100 points against the Pacers?

In their eight wins during the month of January, the Suns have averaged nearly 119 points per game — a total that would surely make the S.S.O.L squads of old smile fondly.

Factoring in its two most recent offensive performances, Phoenix has recorded four 120-point games over the last 30 days, including the 124 it hung on Indiana nearly a week ago.

With that said, Frank Vogel’s squad is an entirely different defensive team when playing inside the Hoosier State. In 22 home contests this season, the Pacers have allowed an NBA-low 84.0 points per game. And, arguably more impressive is the fact that they’ve allowed just one road team, the Detroit Pistons, to reach the century mark in 2013-14.

So in a battle of strength vs. strength, who wins out Thursday night?

Can George Hill contain a banged-up Goran Dragic?

During the teams’ first head-to-head matchup, the answer was a flat out no. Dragic had his way with Hill and got to the basket almost at will. Although the Suns guard only finished with three assists, he managed to set up several open looks from three-point range, in addition to the 21 points he poured in on 8-of-10 shooting.

While Indiana switched All-Star forward Paul George out on Dragic in the second half, the adjustment came a quarter or two late, as the Suns were already leading comfortably in what would turn out to be a 24-point rout.

Eight days isn’t a lot of time to make adjustments, especially when it comes to lateral quickness at the defensive end, but it’ll be interesting if Hill gleans anything from film study that he can use to slow down “The Dragon.”

At this point, maybe an injury is the only thing that can slow down Dragic.

Despite scoring 30 points in only 23 minutes of play in a 126-117 win over the Milwaukee Bucks, Dragic managed to bang his elbow Wednesday night — an injury that required an X-ray following the contest.

The X-ray on the swollen elbow proved to be negative, but it’ll be interesting to see whether or not it limits the 27-year-old in ways Hill can not.

Will Phoenix see Good Roy or Bad Roy?

In the Pacers’ last three losses, center Roy Hibbert has averaged an abysmal 4.3 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. In essence, as Hibbert has gone, so too have the Pacers.

Back on Jan. 22, former teammate Miles Plumlee had his way with the 2012 All-Star, bodying him up possession after possession on the block, contesting easy looks and making his life difficult at the defensive end. After going head-to-head in practice for a full season, there are no real secrets between Hibbert and Plumlee. Each knows where the other likes to catch the basketball, what type of shot fakes could create some upward movement, etc.

The only difference, however, is that Plumlee’s skill set has likely progressed more between 2012-13 and 2013-14 than Hibbert’s has, simply based on the fact he’s getting a chance to start every game for the first time in his NBA career.

However, now that the mentor has had a chance to witness the mentee’s on-court growth first-hand, odds are he’s not going to allow a repeat performance to take place.





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Tags: Goran Dragic Indiana Pacers Phoenix Suns Preview Roy Hibbert

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