Cavs seek first win of season over Pacers (Jan 12, 2018)
The Indiana Pacers are either catching the Cleveland Cavaliers at the right time or the worst time.
After being blown out by host Minnesota by 28 points on Monday night, the Cavaliers suffered their most lopsided loss of the season, 133-99, at Toronto Thursday night.
The Cavaliers (26-15) will play the second of back-to-back games Friday night at Indiana (21-20).
The Pacers won the first two meetings, 124-107, on Nov. 1 in Cleveland and 106-102 at Indiana on Dec. 8. The second victory snapped Cleveland's 13-game winning streak.
So the Cavs could be an angry team seeking revenge or a tired team reeling after losing for the seventh time in 10 games.
"We're a veteran team and we know what we're capable of, and it can't be so easy for us to get in those lulls and not try to dig ourselves out of them," Cavaliers forward Kevin Love told ESPN prior to the Toronto loss. "So we got to be better."
Defense has been a huge issue.
"We haven't been able to stop (teams) as of late," Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue told ESPN after the Minnesota loss. "One-on-one, off the dribble, pick-and-roll has been Achilles' heel and transition."
Before the game, LeBron James told ESPN, "This is just us during the regular season. This is just us. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde at times."
Despite the Cavs' recent shooting woes (38.2 percent vs. Toronto), Pacers coach Nate McMillan said defense will be crucial.
"You have to keep this team in front of you," McMillan said. "You have to get out to their 3-point shooters. You have to finish with rebounding. They do it all. They attack the basket. They create mismatch problems. They're a big, physical team. So we're going to have to defend the paint, rebound the ball and see if we can establish the tempo."
After winning two in a row at home by convincing margins over Chicago and Milwaukee, the Pacers lost 114-106 to visiting Miami on Wednesday night.
Pacers center Myles Turner (elbow) missed the contest against Miami and will be sidelined again versus Cleveland.
"We were missing Myles and we're definitely a much better team when we have everybody in uniform," McMillan said. "Our guys have shown they have some potential. but we have a lot of growth that we have to continue to see, making plays and really learning how to win in situations like (Wednesday night)."
It certainly doesn't help that the Pacers were 1-of-18 from 3-point range in the Miami loss.
"Nights like that happen all the time in the NBA," Indiana guard Victor Oladipo said. "We just have to keep shooting the ball with confidence. We have great shooters, but there will be nights like this."
Pacers point guard Darren Collison said ball movement will be key Friday.
"When we don't move the ball we're not a good team," Collison said. "When we move the ball we're a great team."
With Turner out, veteran Al Jefferson played 17 minutes against Miami and will likely do so again against Cleveland. Jefferson has played in just 14 games this season and Wednesday was his first appearance since Dec. 31.
"No matter how much you play pick-up, run on the treadmill, it's a totally different ball game in there live," Jefferson said. "I knew the first game was going to be about trying to get my legs under me and my rhythm going, but actually it was better than I thought it was going to be."