Countdown to Tipoff: Pacers (37-22) vs. Bucks (29-30)
Saturday, April 14 at Milwaukee, 8:30 p.m.
SCOUTING THE PACERS: There was no champagne in the locker room when the Pacers clinched their second consecutive playoff berth with a 102-83 rout of Cleveland Friday. The Pacers (37-22) want to secure the third seed in the East and homecourt advantage in a series for the first time since the 2004 Eastern Conference Finals. They have a two-game cushion on Atlanta (35-24) and three on Boston (34-25) with seven remaining so they are positioned well and with tonight's game being the next-to-last on the road this season, the schedule works to their advantage.
A defense that had been struggling stepped to the fore Friday, limiting the Cavs to 40 points on 29 percent shooting and the Pacers dominated the third quarter 34-13 to take control. They're 7-1 in April the best record in the league. Danny Granger is averaging 23 points on 50.4 percent shooting this month, while Roy Hibbert has two consecutive double-doubles and has averaged 12.2 points, 11.0 rebounds and 2.8 blocks in the last five. With Darren Collison battling a sore groin, George Hill has stepped in at the point and averaged 16.7 points, 5.3 assists and 4.7 rebounds in the last three games.
SCOUTING THE BUCKS: Coming off a costly loss to the Knicks Wednesday, heading into a game in Detroit Friday, Coach Scott Skiles told his players they need to win out to reach the playoffs. They took care of the first step with a 113-97 victory over the Pistons as Drew Gooden scored 26, Brandon Jennings had 20 points and 10 assists and Monta Ellis added 18 but at 29-30 remained two games behind Philadelphia and New York (both 31-28). Not only are they highly motivated, the Bucks are one of the hottest teams in the league with a 15-7 record since March 3.
One of those losses was 125-104 to the Pacers on March 24 as Indiana racked up 67 bench points, with Hill scoring 24 and Dahntay Jones 13. The Bucks led 45-44 in the second quarter but the Pacers closed the half on a 13-4 run and then put the game away with a 25-10 run in the third quarter. Since the trade of Andrew Bogut for Ellis, who has averaged 22.3 points and 7.0 assists in the last six, the Bucks are more potent offensively but have struggled when confronted with big front lines such as Indiana's tandem of Hibbert and David West, who combined for 31 points and 16 rebounds in just 45 total minutes of playing time when last the teams met..
KEY MATCHUP: Milwaukee's two most dynamic scorers both were ineffective when the teams last met. Ellis scored just 11 on 4-of-9 shooting while Jennings had 12 on 5-of-16 shooting. Either is capable of taking over a game, and Indiana's perimeter defenders will be challenged to prevent that from happening.
QUOTE MARKS: "Getting in the playoffs is an accomplishment but we have our sights set on bigger things." - Pacers Coach Frank Vogel
INJURY REPORT: For the Pacers, Darren Collison (sore groin) is day-to-day. For the Bucks, Kwame Brown (torn pectoral muscle) is out.
BROADCAST INFO: The game will be telecast on Fox Sports Indiana with Chris Denari and Quinn Buckner calling the game with Brook Olzendam hosting the pregame show starting at 6:30. The radio broadcast will air on WIBC 93 FM, featuring Mark Boyle and Austin Croshere.
INTERACT: You can get in-game commentary from this group of Pacers personalities throughout the game on Twitter.