Although the Indiana Pacers are a defensive-oriented team, Frank Vogel knows they must improve offensively to have any success in the playoffs.
A matchup with lowly Orlando would seemingly be what they need, but the Magic are coming off a surprising defensive showing – albeit in a losing effort – and they also shut down the Pacers in the season’s first meeting.
Central Division-leading Indiana tries to bounce back from a disheartening loss when it visits Orlando on Friday night.
Leading by 10 in the fourth quarter, the Pacers (38-23) appeared on their way to beating Boston on Wednesday before suddenly going cold at the offensive end. Indiana shot 4 for 20 in the fourth and didn’t score after taking a nine-point lead with 4:36 remaining.
They had a chance to force overtime but Kevin Garnett found a wide-open Jeff Green under the basket for a layup with 0.5 seconds left, handing the Pacers an 83-81 defeat. It was just the second time in 24 games that Indiana, second in the league in scoring defense at 89.5 per game, lost when allowing fewer than 87 points.
“As a group we just didn’t have that rhythm,” said forward David West, who had 11 points and 16 rebounds. “We were careless with the ball and we just didn’t make some plays we were supposed to make.”
Playing without Danny Granger because of a sore left knee – the same injury that sidelined him the first 54 games – Indiana shot 36.4 percent and was 6 of 27 from 3-point range.
“Part of the lesson you learn throughout an 82-game season is to win in the playoffs you have to execute offensively down the stretch,” Vogel said. “We didn’t do that well enough.”
The Pacers also struggled offensively in Orlando on Jan. 16, shooting a season-worst 2 for 17 from beyond the arc and trailing by 22 in a 97-86 loss. Paul George, tied with West for the team lead at 17.6 points per game, scored 20 but had only six after halftime on 1-of-7 shooting.
Since then, the Magic have gone 3-21.
Orlando (17-45) entered Wednesday’s road game against red-hot Miami having allowed an average of 113.3 points in its previous four contests. The Magic did a decent job of keeping the Heat in check and were in line to end their 15-game winning streak, but LeBron James converted a go-ahead layup with 3.2 seconds left to send Orlando to a 97-96 defeat.
“It’s a tough loss for us but it’s the right step in the right direction,” said forward Tobias Harris, averaging 16.7 points in seven games since being acquired from Milwaukee as part of the J.J. Redick trade.
Nik Vucevic had 25 points and 21 rebounds Wednesday, and he had 16 and 15 against the Pacers in January while doing a solid job defensively against Roy Hibbert.
The Magic have won three straight regular-season contests over the Pacers, but were eliminated in five games by Indiana in the first round of the playoffs last year.