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Fraternizing with the enemy: A Sixers-Pacers preview with Mark Schindler

Getting a little insight about Saturday’s opponent.

Indiana Pacers v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Moving forward, Liberty Ballers will conduct a question-and-answer session with someone possessing in-depth knowledge of the Philadelphia 76ers’ next opponent. Up first is Mark Schindler, who covers the Indiana Pacers for SB Nation’s Indy Cornrows.

What’s one key matchup you’re keeping tabs on for this game?

Chris Duarte and Tyrese Maxey. Duarte typically gets the assignments of small/quick guards, and I’d imagine Malcolm Brogdon is likely going to be Tobias’ primary defender. Maxey has really impressed early and seems to grow with each game. The Pacers struggle with point-of-attack defense and screen navigation as a whole. If Maxey is able to get into the paint with ease, the Sixers have the shooters to really punish a team that gets put into rotations. Duarte will get his shots in the flow of the offense and with some self-creation, but how he holds up defensively will be key. He’s had some very bright moments as a defender, but struggled in Denver and Utah.

What’s your assessment on Indiana’s season thus far and its outlook moving forward?

My assessment on Indiana’s season thus far is relatively mixed. After a 1-6 start marred by sluggish third quarters, the team is 4-2 in November, with the sixth-best net rating, per Cleaning The Glass. The offense has been smoother, the defense has been tighter, but the schedule was easier and the losses were vexing. Health continues to be a problem for this team: They’ve had four of the projected starters together for one game. Some of the personnel, Domantas Sabonis primarily, feel oddly utilized. There’s clunkiness with a new system and staff. The team is talented, but I still have so many questions as to its direction this year, how it sees itself, and whether or not it’ll ever have the healthy lineup it continues to bank on seeing.

Biggest pleasant surprise of the season?

I mean, it’s got to be Chris Duarte. I thought he’d factor in and be a seventh or eighth man this year, playing 20 minutes and fitting into a playoff team. Partially due to injury, but also his own play, he’s started much of the year and, honestly, been quite impressive. He’s the best pull-up shooter on the team, a solid defender, has impressed with some of his pick-and roll-reads, and has provided this team a boost with late clock shot-making as well.

Biggest disappointment of the season?

Justin Holiday has been the standard of consistency for the Pacers since joining the team in 2019. However, he’s been in a really rough shooting slump for much of the year. His defense has also taken a step back, but I think it’s partially been due to a nagging ankle injury that’s hampered him since the beginning of the season. Regardless, Indiana has needed more from him, again due to injuries on the team, and he hasn’t quite been able to provide that.

What’s one thing Sixers fans should watch for in this game?

Malcolm Brogdon’s at-rim finishing and drive game have been massive this year. He’s been one of the better drivers in basketball since his first season in Indiana, but has struggled with his finishing at the rim. The sample size is still relatively small, but his touch and craft at the rim have been better by a significant margin, currently finishing at a 65 percent clip, as opposed to 53 percent and 51 percent from 0-4 feet the past two seasons. He had very good moments driving right at and using pace to throw off Rudy Gobert Thursday evening. While Andre Drummond is not near the same level of rim protector as Gobert, his hand activity and ability to blow plays up early off of ball-screens is a different kind of challenge. Can Malcolm put dents in the defense and sneak in a few lay-ups? That could be a deciding factor in the halfcourt for the Pacers and it’s worth tracking.