The Pacers could've been forgiven for folding after their top offensive threat Victor Oladipo saw his season ended by injury in late January, but they've kept rolling as the Bucks come to town, writes Mark Kirwan...
"Oladipo's right-knee tendon went pop against the Raptors three weeks ago, but it hasn't really hit the Pacers. They lost four on the spin, three road games and the visit of the Warriors, but since then they've won six straight, and are 5-1 on the spread. Bojan Bogdanovic has stepped into the breach, scoring 22 per game in the last six, up from 15 in January. Myles Turner and Darren Collison have also contributed, and Wesley Matthews has been picked up from free agency after the Knicks-Mavs blockbuster trade."
Can Pacers buck Milwaukee's form?
Milwaukee Bucks @ Indiana Pacers
Live on Sky Sports Main Event, Arena
That the Pacers are third in the East given the resources available would be an achievement anyway, but that they've maintained their place among the Bucks, Raptors, Celtics and Sixers through the loss of Victor Oladipo makes it all the more impressive.
Oladipo was a high draft picks who'd not delivered on expectations when he landed in Indianapolis following Paul George's trade to OKC. He was one of the stories of the season last campaign, placing ninth in scoring as the Pacers defied expectations by making the playoffs comfortably. This year, they've built on that momentum and upset the order in the East by improving their defensive effort - they rank second in defensive efficiency in the league and allow the fewest points per night of any team.
Oladipo's right-knee tendon went pop against the Raptors three weeks ago, but it hasn't really hit the Pacers. They lost four on the spin, three road games and the visit of the Warriors, but since then they've won six straight, and are 5-1 on the spread.
Bojan Bogdanovic has stepped into the breach, scoring 22 per game in the last six, up from 15 in January. Myles Turner and Darren Collison have also contributed, and Wesley Matthews has been picked up from free agency after the Knicks-Mavs blockbuster trade.
The story of this team is their defence. Tonight, that'll be put to the test as they welcome the second-highest scoring team in the league to their building. The Bucks are in as impressive form as the Pacers, with just one loss in their last eight, two in 15, and remain the only team to not have lost two in a row this season.
Nikola Mirotic was their big addition in the Eastern Conference arms race at the deadline. He's another shooter they can place around Giannis Antetokounmpo, whose one weak spot is three-point shots, but won't play until after the All-Star break. The Greek Freak is hitting almost 37 points per night in their recent stretch of games and remains the preference of many for the MVP crown despite James Harden's record-breaking heroics.
The Bucks are ranked first in defence, the only team better than the Pacers this year. However, Indiana are the only team from the Central Division to beat Milwaukee this season, and that game saw Giannis held to 12 points on four-of-six shots, with Thaddeus Young shutting down the Bucks' fulcrum, and the Pacers won by 16.
It'll be difficult to repeat that performance, and, though the Pacers are 4-1 as a home underdog on the spread, the only true test of that since Oladipo's injury was the Warriors visit, where the away team strolled off with a 32-point win. If the Bucks are hoping to challenge GSW for the title, they'd hope to cover the 3.5 handicap at [1.93].
New-look Grizz can tame Bulls
Memphis Grizzlies @ Chicago Bulls
Live on Betfair Video
What a sorry story for the Grizzlies this season has been. They got off to a hot start but they've only enjoyed back-to-back wins three times since November 23. Marc Gasol is now a Raptor, while Mike Conley was shopped around but ended up staying (for now). He has several new team-mates to get used to. Only the Suns have a worse record in the West than Memphis.
It's not been all bad recently though. They've won three of their last five and have gone 7-1-1 on the spread in their last nine. The season may be lost, but moving on from Gasol means they can set about building a new identity for next season. CJ Miles and Delon Wright have already contributed after arriving from Toronto, while Jonas Valanciunas is a very useful piece to have, and Avery Bradley, formerly of the Clippers, had a career-best 33 points in last night's one-point loss to the Spurs.
There was some roster turnover at the deadline in Chicago too. Otto Porter's huge contract was offloaded by the Wizards for Bobby Portis and the failed Jabari Parker experiment. He's been touted for his potential, but averages under 11 points per game in his career.
More of a concern, Jim Boylen remains the coach, pleasing few on the roster or in the stands. Despite their interesting pieces, Lauri Markkanen and Zach Lavine stand out, and their potentially landing the number one pick in this summer's draft, there's very little reason for optimism in the Windy City due to the management of the team.
The big thing going against Memphis here is they played last night, which puts the Bulls in the unusual spot of favourites tonight by 1.5 points. I think that's out of line given Memphis' recent play and would take them with the points at 10/11 on the Sportsbook.
Denver happy to be home
Sacramento Kings @ Denver Nuggets
Live on Betfair Video
Denver hit a rocky patch on their travels in the last fortnight. Three-straight losses to Eastern Conference opposition isn't the most encouraging sign for a team who are hoping to upset the big-hitters out west come summertime. Detroit, Brooklyn and Philly all have varying ambitions this season but will have been encouraged by claiming the scalp of the team ranked fourth in the Western Conference.
Now they're back on home court and it shows. They beat the Heat by 16 on Monday night, holding their opponent to 87. It's the first time since December 13 that they've limited a team to so few points, and the first time in five games that they've held an opponent to a double-digit total. At just under 107 points per night allowed, they have the second best defensive record in the West, and that's a big part of their surprise performance this season.
The Kings are a more moderate shock team this year, as they continue to duke it out for a playoff spot long after they've usually decided to focus on next year. They hold the eighth seed currently, and could catch up with a few of those ahead of them if rookie Marvin Bagley continues to grow - he dropped 32 points on Sunday (ok, it was the Suns, but still) - while De'Aaron Fox is dishing over seven assists per night.
Still, Denver won't want to make a habit of dropping games at home and have the third-best cover rate in their own building in the league. Sacramento's scoring is also trending down recently, with just 106 points per game in their last three. I'd expect the altitude advantage to affect them further here, and the Nuggets will look to cover -8 at [1.91].
1pt on Milwaukee Bucks -3.5 @ [1.93] on the Exchange
1pt on Memphis Grizzlies +1.5 @ 10/11 on the Sportsbook
1pt on Denver Nuggets -8 @ [1.99] on the Exchange