Cavaliers beat struggling Pacers to keep playoff hopes alive
CLEVELAND — Dion Waiters scored 19 points, Luol Deng added 15 and the Cleveland Cavaliers kept their playoff push going with a 90-76 win Sunday over the Indiana Pacers, who are losing their grip on the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Tristan Thompson had 16 rebounds as the Cavs snapped a nine-game losing streak against Indiana. Cleveland came in three games behind slumping, idle Atlanta for the conference’s final playoff spot. With seven games left — six against teams with losing records — the Cavs still have a chance.
The Pacers, meanwhile, are falling apart. They lost their fifth straight road game and now lead Miami by one game for the East’s top record and home-court advantage.
Paul George scored 15 and David West 14 for Indiana, which fell behind by 21 in the fourth quarter.
Once thought to be a lock to make the conference finals, the Pacers are in disarray as they enter the final weeks of the regular season.
Indiana’s offense lacks rhythm, and other than in a win at home over the Heat last week, the Pacers aren’t showing the same intensity or energy that has made them one of the NBA’s top teams.
They trailed the Cavs by 13 at halftime, and after pulling within six in the third, the Pacers let the Cavs go on a 14-5 run, capped by Jarrett Jack’s 3-pointer that made it 69-54.
Indiana never got close enough to threaten the Cavs in the fourth, and Pacers coach Frank Vogel pulled his starters for the final 1:20 — a surprising sign of surrender.
Midway through the quarter, West was assessed a technical and a flagrant-1 after a mix-up with Cavs rookie guard Matthew Dellavedova and Cleveland center Spencer Hawes.
There’s still time to get things fixed, but the Pacers have been in a downward spiral for several weeks. They’ve lost nine of 15 since March 4 and it won’t get any easier with San Antonio coming in for a visit on Monday. The Spurs have won 17 straight.
The Cavs, on the other hand, are peaking at the right time. They won for the fourth time in five games despite playing without All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving, who missed his eighth straight with an injured biceps.
Irving could be back this week, when the Cavs are at Orlando before a showdown on Friday against the Hawks, who have lost six in a row.
Cleveland played the second half without center Anderson Varejao, who strained his right shoulder.
Before the game, Vogel attributed his team’s recent struggles to a lack of offensive consistency.
"It’s a lot of fundamentals: screening, the extra pass, all those little things," Vogel said.
Those minor details remained elusive for the Pacers in the first half, when they shot just 34 percent, lacked any cohesion and fell behind by 13.
They battled back to pull within 35-34, but the Cavs went on a 14-2 run to close the half.
During the spree, Varejao hurt his right shoulder while attempting a pass. He immediately went to the locker room for evaluation and didn’t return. Varejao missed 15 games earlier this season with a sore back.
NOTES: The Pacers have scored less than 80 points in four of their past five games. … Irving was scheduled to be re-evaluated Sunday by team physician Dr. Richard Parker. It’s not yet known when, or if, Irving will play again. … Cleveland’s schedule couldn’t be better over the next seven games for its playoff drive. The Cavs will play just one team — Brooklyn — with a winning record and that’s in the season finale. … George came in shooting just 30 percent in his last seven games and went 5 of 13.