Preview: Pacers look to get back in a defensive groove in Utah
The Indiana Pacers’ NBA-best defense was severely tested in the first two contests of a five-game road trip, and the results were mixed.
The Pacers will try to get back in a defensive groove Wednesday night when they face the Utah Jazz — their only weak opponent during a challenging western swing but a team that’s currently enjoying its best stretch of the season.
Indiana (16-2) had allowed 100 points once during a 15-1 start — unsurprisingly in the only loss — before surrendering at least that many in back-to-back games to begin the current trip.
The Pacers opened with a 105-100 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday before losing 106-102 to Portland the next night, snapping a seven-game win streak despite a career-high 43 points from Paul George. Their 110-94 loss at Chicago on Nov. 16 also came on the second night of a back-to-back.
“I really wanted to get this win,” said George, one of four Indiana players to score 43 or more since 2000. “I was trying to will us into the game.”
Indiana remains atop the league with 87.6 points allowed per game despite the defeats, which came against two teams in the top five in scoring in the NBA.
“They’re a great offensive team and they made big shots all game long,” coach Frank Vogel said of Portland. “Hopefully that’s what it’s going to take to beat this team – making impossible shot after impossible shot.”
The Pacers still held the Clippers and Trail Blazers to a combined 45 percent shooting.
Indiana lost to the Blazers at the free-throw line, as Portland went 29 for 33 while the Pacers hit 15 of 17 — tying their second-lowest total for attempts this season.
The Pacers’ tough trip concludes with a back-to-back set against San Antonio on Saturday and Oklahoma City on Sunday.
Indiana has not given up 100 points in three straight games since an 0-3 stretch from Jan. 23-28. Two of those games, coincidentally, came against Portland and Utah, which won 114-110 in overtime at home in its most recent meeting with the Pacers on Jan. 26.
The Jazz (4-15) have turned it around with three victories in four games, including an impressive 109-103 win over Houston on Monday that gave them consecutive victories for the first time this season.
Marvin Williams scored five points in the final two minutes to help Utah hold on and Gordon Hayward broke out of a slump with 29 points while going 12 for 18 from the field.
Utah had reached the 100-point mark once in its first 16 games, averaging 88.5 during that stretch, but it’s been outstanding at the offensive end in the last week, scoring 107.3 points per game over the past three.
“We’re learning from the other games and not making the same mistakes twice,” said Hayward, who shot 29 percent in his previous nine. “Don’t get me wrong, we still have a lot of improvement as a basketball team and as individuals, but it’s good to see we didn’t let this one slip away like we did early in the year.”
The Jazz have lost two of three overall against the Pacers, but they’ve beaten Indiana six straight times at home.
The Pacers haven’t won in Salt Lake City since an 84-60 victory Nov. 29, 2005, in which Utah posted the second-lowest point total in its history. The franchise low came in a 71-56 loss at Seattle on Feb. 16, 1999.