Although they managed to grind out recent victories over two of their biggest rivals, the Indiana Pacers’ late-season offensive woes reached a new low in their latest perplexing defeat.
Given the way they’ve played defensively against the Cleveland Cavaliers, those shooting struggles might not matter Sunday.
Indiana looks to maintain its edge in the race for home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs by beating Cleveland for the 10th straight time.
With a slim lead over Miami for the East’s best record, the inconsistent Pacers (52-21) are focused on ironing out some of their issues before heading into the postseason.
Though Indiana pulled out wins over Chicago and Miami in the past two weeks, those are its only victories in the past six games. The Central Division champion has dropped eight of 14, most recently losing 91-78 at Washington on Friday.
”We’re at the point where we can’t just get up for the Miamis or the Chicago Bulls and then come out and get doughnuts against the Wizards or these other teams,” said forward David West, who had 10 points and committed four of Indiana’s 17 turnovers.
The Pacers haven’t been getting up for anyone offensively, scoring 77.5 points per game and shooting 36.5 percent in their last four. They’ve been held to fewer than 80 points three times over that span after scoring in the 70s once in their first 69 contests.
On Friday, Indiana posted its second-lowest shooting percentage of the season at 35.4 while going 2 of 13 from 3-point range.
Paul George and Lance Stephenson totaled 32 points on a combined 9 of 35 from the field. George, a two-time All-Star, has shot 29.9 percent over his last seven contests.
”I’m tired of talking about it,” said center Roy Hibbert, who had eight points and two rebounds Friday. ”We’ve been in this rut for a month. I don’t know. I’ve made my suggestions. You take one step forward and three steps back."
The Pacers may be able to overcome their poor shooting as they try end a season-high four-game road losing streak. They’ve limited the Cavaliers to 76.0 points and 35.1 percent from the floor – including 21.3 percent (10 of 47) from 3-point range – while winning the three meetings this season.
Cleveland (29-45) hasn’t reached 100 points in its last 11 games against Indiana, and has dropped 15 of 16 in the series.
Making matters worse, the Cavaliers will be without Kyrie Irving for the second straight meeting. The star guard, who sat out an 82-78 home loss Jan. 5 with a left knee contusion, will miss his eighth consecutive contest due to a biceps injury.
Cleveland had its three-game winning streak snapped in a 108-97 defeat at Brooklyn on Friday. Dion Waiters and Luol Deng scored 20 points apiece but the Cavaliers shot 42.5 percent.
They’re running out of time to pass ninth-place New York and eighth-place Atlanta for the final East playoff spot.
”I’ve come to the conclusion of expecting more from us," coach Mike Brown said. "That’s what’s disappointing."
Though Waiters has averaged 22.4 points in seven games since moving into the starting lineup, he’s scored 14.3 and shot 35.3 percent in the season series with the Pacers.
Indiana’s Andrew Bynum, who began the season with Cleveland, is out indefinitely with soreness in his right knee.