Sunday, March 11 at Orlando, 6 p.m.
Countdown to Tipoff: Pacers (23-15) vs. Magic (26-15)
By Conrad Brunner
SCOUTING THE PACERS: The team's resiliency will be tested tonight. Coming off a frustrating, heartbreaking 93-91 overtime loss in Miami Saturday, the Pacers must gather themselves for a potentially huge game with major postseason ramifications tonight in Orlando. The Magic has won two of three and can clinch the season series, and thus the critical playoff tie-breaker, with a victory. The Pacers have dropped three in a row and slipped from third in the East to fifth -- just one game ahead of sixth-place Atlanta -- since the All-Star break.
They led by four with the ball in the final 90 seconds of regulation and by five with less than two minutes left in overtime in Miami but failed to close it out both times as Dwyane Wade hit the off-balance game-winner with one-tenth of a second remaining in the extra session, just before the power went out in American Airlines Arena. Indiana must regain its offensive juice, having averaged 86.3 points on .386 shooting in the three-game losing streak. The Pacers also have been outrebounded 155-109 and outscored 56-30 on second-chance points.
George Hill missed the game with a sprained left shoulder and the Pacers dropped to 6-8 without their sixth man. He could play tonight, but that is anything but certain.
SCOUTING THE MAGIC: One of the most unpredictable teams in the league, Orlando has shown its multiple personalities in the past week. After struggling to beat lowly Toronto 92-88 Monday, the Magic took a 20-point first-half lead Tuesday in Charlotte, only to fall completely apart in the second half on the way to a stunning 100-84 loss. Then, naturally, they traveled to Chicago and snapped the Bulls' eight-game win streak 99-94 as Dwight Howard had 29 points and 18 rebounds.
With the NBA trade deadline looming Thursday, reports continue to swirl about Howard's status as the Magic must decide whether to take the best deal they can get for their disgruntled center or hold onto him for one more playoff run and risk losing him to free agency. That may be a distraction; then again, the Howard situation has been out there so long, the players are probably numb to it by now.
Orlando likely will be missing two starters tonight, as Hedo Turkoglu will be serving a one-game NBA suspension for bumping an official and Jason Richardson is not expected to play because of a left ankle sprain. Quentin Richardson would start for Turkoglu, with J.J. Redick filling in if Richardson can't play.
KEY MATCHUP: The conundrum when facing Orlando is whether to focus the defense Howard and risk allowing open 3-point shots, or to stay honest on the shooters and risk a huge game from the big man. The Pacers have struggled in both areas this season. Orlando has shot 32 of 80 (.400) from the arc in three matchups, accounting for 35 percent of its offense. Howard, on the other hand, has averaged 21.7 points and 10.0 rebounds. The Pacers need to make this an either-or situation for the Magic.
QUOTE MARKS: "On preparation for tomorrow’s game after the loss tonight, we have to understand that we are a good basketball team. We proved we could play with (Miami). Obviously we should have pulled out this game and we gave it away." - Pacers Coach Frank Vogel
INJURY REPORT: For the Pacers, Jeff Foster (back) is out, while George Hill (left shoulder) is day-to-day. For the Magic, Jason Richardson (ankle) is questionable, Hedo Turkoglu (suspended) is out, and Von Wafer (shoulder) is day-to-day.
BROADCAST INFO: The game will be telecast at 6 p.m. on Fox Sports Indiana with Chris Denari and Quinn Buckner calling the game with Brook Olzendam hosting the pregame show starting at 5:30. The radio broadcast will air on WIBC 93 FM, featuring Mark Boyle and Austin Croshere, with Kevin Lee hosting the pre-game and halftime shows.
INTERACT: You can get in-game commentary from this group of Pacers personalities throughout the game on Twitter.