The Indiana Pacers beat the Cleveland Cavaliers earlier this week, but losing Kyrie Irving may have been an even greater blow.
Irving’s status may not matter in another meeting.
The Pacers look to continue their dominance over the Cavaliers on Sunday night, while Irving is uncertain to play.
Indiana (26-6) owns the best record in the NBA, and that includes two wins over Cleveland (11-22).
The Pacers cruised to a 91-76 win in the latest matchup on New Year’s Eve, but the Cavaliers lost Irving in the third quarter to a bruised left knee.
Irving — the Cavs leader with averages of 22.2 points and 6.1 assists — has missed two games since, and it’s unclear if he’ll be back Sunday. He scored 17.4 points per game in seven career meetings with Indiana.
Irving’s status may not matter since the Pacers have won eight straight games in the series while allowing an average of 85.6 points and 38.8 percent shooting – 26.2 from beyond the arc. They’ve also won 14 of the last 15 between the teams.
He’s our best player, especially when it comes to scoring the basketball. So you miss his 22 points a game
-Mike Brown on Kyrie Irving
The Pacers have thrived on their suffocating defensive play, allowing an NBA-low average of 88.9 points while limiting opponents to 41.3 percent from the field. That has continued in winning six of their last seven games, holding opponents to 84.3 points per game and 40.8 percent shooting — including 28.5 percent from 3-point range.
The Pacers extended that stretch after a slow start Saturday, beating New Orleans 99-82 after falling behind by 14 points early.
"We knew eventually that the shots we were going to fall," said Paul George, who had 24 points and 10 rebounds. "We just play so well defensively, we know that’s going to keep us in the game. We just stuck to our defense."
George’s production usually helps. The guard is averaging a career-high 23.5 points, but had 21 against the Cavaliers on Tuesday and has averaged 19.0 points on 35.1 percent shooting the last three games.
Roy Hibbert had 19 points in the win over Cleveland, but he managed six while missing 5 of 7 attempts from the field Saturday.
Cleveland has dropped seven of eight games while averaging 93.8 points. The Cavaliers missed Irving on Saturday, when they hit just 36.7 percent of their field goals in a 89-82 defeat at Brooklyn.
"He’s our best player, especially when it comes to scoring the basketball. So you miss his 22 points a game," coach Mike Brown said. "But I give our guys credit. They competed in the second half. We had a chance to win it. We took the lead, we just couldn’t hold on.
"You miss a guy of his capabilities especially down the stretch in situations like this."
Dion Waiters is looking for some consistency after scoring 26 points while connecting on 9-of-18 shots against the Nets. The second-year guard hit 31.3 percent of his shots while averaging 13.5 points over the four previous games.
He’s averaged 11.0 points in four meetings with the Pacers.
C.J. Miles had 19 points and eight rebounds Saturday, but he had only five points on New Year’s Eve.
Irving also sat out a 111-90 home loss to Indiana on March 18 due to a shoulder injury as Miles had 21 points, but Waiters was held to four.