A matchup between the Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs is looking less like a potential NBA Finals preview than it did earlier in the season.
While league-leading San Antonio is on the brink of its longest winning streak ever, Indiana is stumbling toward the playoffs and in danger of losing its grip on the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
The visiting Spurs aim for an 18th straight victory Monday night against the Pacers.
San Antonio (57-16) is three games ahead of Oklahoma City for the NBA’s best record after tying a team mark with its 17th straight win, 96-80 at home against New Orleans on Saturday. The Spurs, who also won 17 in a row from Feb. 29-March 31, 1996, also need to go 6-4 over their final 10 games to tie a franchise-best 63-19 finish in 2005-06.
The Pacers (52-22) have let their lead over Miami for first place in the East dwindle to one game after dropping five of seven and nine of their last 15 games. They awoke for an 84-83 victory over the Heat on Wednesday, but otherwise have appeared listless, falling 90-76 against a 30-45 Cleveland squad on Sunday.
Indiana was 29 of 78 from the field and is shooting 36.6 percent while averaging just 77.2 points over its last five games. Paul George was 5 of 13 against the Cavaliers with 15 points and is averaging 17.1 on 30.8 percent shooting over his last eight contests. He had been scoring 22.3 points per game while shooting 43.9 percent.
"We can’t figure out a way to perform better," said David West, who is shooting 34.4 percent over his last five games and was assessed a technical and a flagrant-1 following an exchange with Cleveland’s Matthew Dellavedova and Spencer Hawes.
"We’ve done what you do," West said. "We’ve had team meetings. We’ve had players-only meetings. We’ve had players and the coaches (meetings). We’re kind of looking for answers right now, and things don’t get any easier."
The Spurs have gotten just six points from Tony Parker on 3-of-14 shooting over the last two games, but still defeated Denver and New Orleans by a combined 47 points. Marco Belinelli helped compensate for Parker’s ineffectiveness, totaling 45 points on 10-of-14 shooting from 3-point range.
San Antonio has gotten 29.1 assists per game during its winning streak after previously averaging 24.4.
"It is sweet to be a part of that," said Manu Ginobili, who scored 15 against the Pelicans. "It is not something that happens very often because it is a long spread of game, a month or two. Here or there you have a bad game or the opponent has a bad one, but a lot of things have combined for us to have this type of streak. We played really well and we are healthy."
The Spurs’ 11-game winning streak in the series ended with a 111-100 home loss to Indiana on Dec. 7 – a game in which the Pacers outscored them 67-37 over the second and third quarters and finished with seven players in double figures.
Parker had 13 points and just two assists, while Tim Duncan was 3 for 10 with 10 points. Duncan’s six rebounds in that one ended a 12-game run with at least 10 versus Indiana, which shot 53.5 percent from the floor.
George scored 28 points and was 4 of 4 from beyond the arc, while West added 20 on 9-of-12 shooting.