With the offense sputtering during their losing streak, the Indiana Pacers can’t afford to waste many more opportunities to take charge in the race for a postseason spot.
Amid reports of his possible return, All-Star forward Paul George isn’t quite ready to ride to their rescue.
The Pacers will try to move into sole possession of eighth place in the Eastern Conference on Saturday night when they face what’s likely to be a tired Brooklyn Nets team at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
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Indiana (30-38) was seventh in the weak East after winning a season-high seventh straight game March 12. Since then, however, the streaky club has fallen behind Miami and into a virtual tie with Boston while losing four in a row.
The Pacers are having a particularly difficult time on offense, averaging 91.3 points during their worst skid since a seven-game slide in January. They had put up 102.0 per game while winning 13 of their previous 15.
David West has totaled eight points on 3-of-17 shooting in his last two games, and his status is uncertain after leaving Friday’s 95-92 loss at Cleveland with an illness. Luis Scola and Rodney Stuckey went a combined 5 for 21 from the field.
Following Boston’s 101-89 loss at San Antonio, the Pacers still have an opportunity to move a half-game ahead of the idle Celtics if they can pull out their sixth straight victory over the Nets.
"I do look at (the standings) – probably more than I should," coach Frank Vogel said. "I know how close we are."
Vogel insisted George will not play Saturday despite earlier reports that he might be making his season debut. George, who led the club in scoring the past two seasons, is just 7 1/2 months removed from snapping his right leg in two places while playing for Team USA.
The Nets (28-39) closed within 1 1/2 games of Boston and Indiana with Friday’s 129-127 triple-overtime home win over Milwaukee. However, they’ll still need to jump past three teams with just 15 games remaining.
Brook Lopez led the way with 32 points, 18 rebounds and five blocks, while Thaddeus Young scored 24 and Joe Johnson added 20 to help Brooklyn win for the third time in four games following a five-game skid.
"We just fought. Being down in so many difficult situations throughout the game, guys just didn’t give up. We played like a desperate basketball team," said Jarrett Jack, who had 12 points, eight boards and seven assists.
The Nets also displayed some improvement defensively, limiting the Bucks to 33 points in the third and fourth quarters and 38.0 percent shooting on the night. They had allowed teams to hit 46.8 percent over their previous nine.
Stuckey finished with 20 points in a 110-85 road win over Brooklyn on Dec. 27. West and former Brooklyn guard C.J. Watson added 17 apiece and Indiana shot 51.2 percent, including 9 of 18 from 3-point range.
The Pacers had their way inside in that contest, outrebounding Brooklyn 45-35 while owning a 48-28 scoring advantage in the paint. The Nets won Friday despite getting outworked 81-53 on the glass.
Jack, a former Indiana guard, had 22 points and Johnson contributed 18 in the first meeting. The Nets, though, shot 36.4 percent and missed 18 of 25 from beyond the arc.