While the news of Danny Granger being lost for the season wasn’t easy to swallow, the Indiana Pacers have proved they are pretty dangerous even without him.
Indiana seeks a fourth straight victory as its western road swing continues Saturday night against the woeful Phoenix Suns, who hope to avoid their worst home losing streak in nine years.
The Pacers found out prior to Thursday’s 103-78 win over Dallas that Granger would need surgery on his sore left knee that has kept him out of all but five games this season.
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Indiana (46-27), though, still leads Chicago by 5 1/2 games for the lead in the Central Division — which it hasn’t won since 2003-04 — despite playing mostly without Granger. He was the team’s top scorer last season at 18.7 points per game.
The Pacers also are in a tight battle with New York for the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed.
“We know we can win without Danny in the lineup,” said Paul George, averaging a team-best 17.7 points during his breakout season. “As much as we do want Danny back, our mindset is still to prepare to win in the playoffs.”
Shortly after making those comments, the All-Star forward hit 10 of 17 from the field and scored 24 points versus the Mavericks as the Pacers won for the sixth time in seven tries. They’ve won the first two of a four-game road trip that ends Monday against the Los Angeles Clippers.
“Paul George played like an All-Star,” coach Frank Vogel said.
Vogel, though, mainly praised his NBA-best defense, which is holding opponents to 89.5 points per game. Indiana also leads in field-goal percentage defense at 41.3 and has held five of its last seven opponents below 39.0 percent.
“Our defensive effort seemingly keeps getting better and better,” Vogel said. “I’m very impressed with how dialed in our guys are, and how disciplined they’re playing on the defensive end.”
The Pacers also got a boost from the return of David West, who had seven points and seven rebounds in 28 minutes after missing the previous six games with a lower back strain.
West and George shot a combined 9 for 27 in the first meeting with Phoenix, but George Hill hit 9 for 13 and scored 22 points as the Pacers ended a four-game losing streak to the Suns with a 97-91 victory Dec. 28.
Phoenix played without Goran Dragic due to a hip bruise, and it’s unclear if he’ll be in the lineup Wednesday after sitting out the past two games to rest, according to the team. He’s averaged 10.8 assists over his last five games and scored 31 in Sunday’s 102-100 loss to Brooklyn.
The West-worst Suns (23-50) have since dropped two games this week by a combined 29 points, including a 117-103 home loss to Sacramento on Thursday. Luis Scola hit 10 of 13 from the field and scored 25 points, but Phoenix suffered its fifth straight loss — those opponents have shot a combined 50.6 percent.
The Suns, losers of 11 of 13 overall, are on the verge of dropping five straight at home for the first time since March 6-19, 2004.
“I don’t think it’s just one thing,” Scola said. “We are making a lot of mistakes. It has been a rough year all along.”
Rookie Kendall Marshall has gotten back-to-back starts with Dragic out, totaling 23 assists.
“Guys are making shots so that helps, but I’m more worried about the end result,” Marshall said. “We’re 0-2 with me starting so I don’t see it as a success at all.”