Celtics-Pacers Preview

The Boston Celtics may be stumbling, but they’re afforded the

luxury of cruising into the playoffs with another Atlantic Division

title.

The Indiana Pacers don’t have any margin for error if they’re

going to join them in the postseason.

The Pacers attempt to create some breathing room in the tight

race for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference by

snapping a five-game slide to the Celtics on Monday night.

Boston (50-21) has already clinched a fourth consecutive

division title, so a 5-6 stretch heading into its final 10 games

isn’t overly concerning.

The Celtics are only playing for seeding. They are second in the

conference, two games behind first-place Chicago and one-half game

in front of Miami for third.

The Pacers (32-42) aren’t as comfortable, entering this game

with a tenuous hold on eighth. Indiana is just one game ahead of

ninth-place Charlotte and two in front of Milwaukee for 10th.

Indiana has also played two more games than its pursuers, and

its lead was put in further jeopardy following a 100-88 loss at

Detroit on Saturday after falling 110-93 to Sacramento the previous

night.

“We just gave away two games in the last two nights to two teams

that wanted it more, and just let other teams right back in the

hunt,” forward Danny Granger said Saturday. “We have to step it up

and if we don’t we will be out of the playoffs.”

Getting swept in the four-game season series with Boston

wouldn’t help the Pacers’ postseason chances.

They’ve dropped 11 of 13 meetings with the Celtics, including

five in a row while averaging 89.6 points on 40.2 percent shooting.

Indiana made just 37.5 percent of its field goals in a 92-80 loss

at Boston on March 16.

Granger has struggled greatly over the last four contests versus

the Celtics, making 28.6 percent of his field goals while hitting 4

of 23 from beyond the arc to average 16.3 points.

He’s entering this matchup in sluggish shooting form, making 9

of 27 shots to total 34 points over the last two games.

That may not improve with the Celtics playing stifling defense

of late, yielding just 83.2 points over the last 10 games. However,

they’re also sputtering offensively in that span, scoring 85.9

points per contest.

Boston appeared to be comfortably on its way to a victory

Sunday, but blew a 25-point, second-quarter lead before pulling out

an 85-82 win over Western Conference-worst Minnesota to open this

four-game road trip.

“You’ve got to work to win them all,” said forward Kevin

Garnett, who had 13 points and 13 rebounds against the

Timberwolves.

It’s unclear if Rajon Rondo, among the NBA’s leaders with 11.4

assists per game, will play after sitting out Sunday’s win with an

injured right pinky finger. The All-Star point guard is averaging

9.6 points and 10.4 assists over his last seven meetings with

Indiana, but has appeared in only one of three matchups this season

due to injuries.