Confident Pacers eager to protect home court against Cavs
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) The Indiana Pacers look loose and sound confident.
They were laughing, smiling and joking around at practice Thursday as turned to a new task - protecting their home court this weekend against LeBron James.
Sure, his sensational 46-point, 12-rebound effort in Game 2 exposed flaws in Indiana's defense and allowed Cleveland to even the series, but it sure didn't shake the faith of the fearless Pacers.
''It's a good sign when you lose by three and the best player in the world has a game like that,'' Indiana point guard Darren Collison said.
The Pacers shouldn't be rattled.
They are 4-2 against the three-time defending Eastern Conference champs this season, fought back from an early 18-point deficit Wednesday with Victor Oladipo in foul trouble and still had a chance to tie the score on Oladipo's wide-open 3-pointer with 27 seconds left.
They still can seize control of the series by winning the next two in Indianapolis.
To avoid such a plight, the Cavs could give their star player some help - or they will need more command performances from The King.
But finding a stronger supporting cast Friday night in Game 3 could be potentially problematic with Kevin Love trying to play through an injured left thumb. Love, who is right-handed, said X-rays of the hand were negative even though he sat out the final 3 1/2 minutes of Game 2 as the Pacers continued to close the deficit.
''He's great, yes sir,'' coach Tyronn Lue said Wednesday. ''Ready to go.''
The Cavs did not have media availability Thursday.
Indiana, meanwhile, spent most of the day working on corrections.
''I've already watched it,'' Oladipo said, cutting off a question about whether he'd been studying film. ''But I'll probably watch it again.''
While coach Nate McMillan didn't provide specific details about what adjustments he might make, the Pacers figure the simplest solution to containing James and regaining control of the series will be focusing on themselves.
''I think offensively, we didn't have the proper spacing and we were letting them push us off our spots, like we did to them in Game 1. And Victor got into foul trouble,'' Collison said. ''There were a lot of encouraging signs from that game because we didn't play our best basketball.''
RAPTORS AT WIZARDS
Raptors lead 2-0. Game 3, 8 p.m. EDT, ESPN2.
NEED TO KNOW: The Raptors had never taken a 2-0 lead in a playoff series until now. With DeMar DeRozan leading the way, this one could be over quickly unless the Wizards figure out how to play a little defense, particularly on the perimeter. DeRozan scored 37 points, shot 61 percent from the field and 50 percent on 3s in Game 2. In all, the Raptors have made 29 baskets from beyond the arc through two games, 11 more than the Wizards. Washington, meanwhile, has lost seven of its last eight, dating to the regular season. Asked about where things stand right now, PG John Wall said: ''I'm just always cool. Just stay cool and understand that we didn't play our best basketball.''
KEEP AN EYE ON: Washington's starting lineup. Coach Scott Brooks has hinted about possibly removing C Marcin Gortat and inserting F Mike Scott. That would make Washington more athletic and nimble, and Scott's ability to close out on outside shooters helps the defense against 3s. Plus, Scott offers more scoring punch.
INJURY UPDATE: Raptors G Fred VanVleet sat out Game 1 because of a bruised right shoulder suffered in Toronto's regular season finale, and was out of sync in Game 2. It's unclear how much - or if - he has practiced the last two days. Washington SF Otto Porter Jr. has been dealing with a strained right calf recently and a bum hip before that, but Brooks declared him ''100 percent healthy'' heading into Game 3.
PRESSURE IS ON: Bradley Beal. The Wizards top scorer (22.6 points) is averaging just 14 in the playoffs. He was 3 for 11 in Game 2 and has struggled from 3-point range, too. Still, the Raptors know they must keep him under control. ''He's one of the most dynamic players in our league,'' Toronto coach Dwane Casey said. ''We've got to treat him as such and not look at him having a couple of games where he hasn't shot well. We'll treat him for who he is.''
CELTICS AT BUCKS
Celtics lead 2-0. Game 3, 9:30 p.m. EDT, ESPN.
NEED TO KNOW: The Bucks won at Boston on opening night and have since lost four of five in the series. Milwaukee's only win during that stretch came April 3, at home. So the Bucks are hoping a change in scenery also helps them change direction. The Celtics expect to see a different team this weekend. ''You know they're going to come out aggressive, they're going to come out hard,'' Boston guard Terry Rozier said. ''We're coming out with the mindset that we can forget about taking care of the home-court (advantage).''
KEEP AN EYE ON: Bucks F Jabari Parker. The Celtics have been challenging Parker and Al Horford has taken advantage in the paint. Now Parker, who has scored only two points in the first two games while averaging 12 minutes per game, sounds frustrated as he tries to work his way back from a second serious knee injury. When asked Thursday about how he gets more minutes, Parker said: ''Be on my coach's good side. Yeah. Whatever that is, just try to be on the good side.'' Coach Joe Prunty said later he has no issues with Parker. ''He's on my good side,'' Prunty said. ''We need him and everybody to be ready to go when they step on the floor and play well.''
INTRIGUING MATCHUP: Rozier and Bucks guard Eric Bledsoe. Things have gotten a bit chippie between the two lately. Rozier acknowledged Thursday that while there is no ill will between the two though he mistakenly referred to Bledsoe as Drew, the former New England Patriots' quarterback earlier in the series. ''Yeah I made a huge mistake,'' Rozier said with a chuckle. ''But it is what it is now.''
PRESSURE IS ON: Giannis Antetokounmpo. While he's nearly averaging a triple-double through the first two games - 32.5 points, 11.0 rebounds and 7.5 assists - he also has a team-high seven turnovers in the first two games. He needs to play better for the Bucks to get back into the series.
Associated Press writers Howard Fendrich in Washington, Ian Harrison in Toronto, Kyle Hightower in Boston and Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this report.
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