Friday, December 20, 2013 at 8:00 PM ET at Bankers Life Fieldhouse

Game Preview: Pacers (20-5) vs Rockets (17-9)

Scott Agness | December 20, 2013

Matchup

Danny Granger will make his season debut Friday night against the Houston Rockets and in front of millions nationwide on ESPN. The Pacers forward has been through a lot since May 2012, and he hopes this will be his last long stint off the court.

After trying various treatments, including platelet-rich plasma, a knee injection and rest, Granger was shut down after playing five mid-season games last year. On April 4, he underwent surgery by Dr. James Andrews in Florida. The knee is now good, he says, but he’s been sidelined since Oct. 18 due to a strained left calf.

Even without Granger, the Pacers got off to their best start in franchise history and are atop the Eastern Conference standings. Team executives believe he is the piece that can take the Pacers to another level as they are gunning for their first NBA title.

The Rockets are in the top pack of a very competitive Western Conference. Nine teams have winning records and the conference has had their way against Eastern foes, with the exception of Indiana and Miami.

Last season, the Rockets went 45-37 and were ousted by the Oklahoma City Thunder 4-2 in the first round of the playoffs. In the offseason, the Rockets made a big splash by landing free-agent center Dwight Howard.

After one dysfunctional year with the Lakers, Howard narrowed his list to five teams – the Hawks, Lakers, Mavericks, Rockets and Warriors – and ultimately settled on the Rockets, with a hard recruitment from forward Chandler Parsons. Houston now has a ‘big three’ of their own, with James Harden, Parsons and Howard.

The Rockets look to push the pace at all times. However, because of their quick-tempo offense, they also turn the ball over almost 18 times a game. They are second in the Association in points per game (107) and rebounding, and have the third-best shooting percentage (47.2). They’ve grabbed 50-plus rebounds in nine games already.

Health concerns have hit the Rockets lately. Earlier this week, they had just eight players available at practice. Harden, Parsons, Jeremy Lin and others are all dealing with something. Lin (back) practiced for the first time in a week on Thursday.

Coming off a loss in Miami, their second consecutive defeat, the Pacers are home for four of their final five games this calendar year.

Probable Starters

George Hill

George Hill

Lance Stephenson

Lance Stephenson

Paul George

Paul George

David West

David West

Roy Hibbert

Roy Hibbert

Patrick Beverley

Patrick Beverley

James Harden

James Harden

Chandler Parsons

Chandler Parsons

Terrence Jones

Terrence Jones

Dwight Howard

Dwight Howard

Injury Update

Pacers: Danny Granger (probable, strained left calf)
Rockets: Omer Asik (right thigh contusion), James Harden (sprained left ankle), Terrence Jones (flu-like symptoms), Jeremy Lin (back spasms) and Chandler Parsons (back spasms)

Quotable

“I don’t look at their record. I look at them as a championship contender. I know they don’t have the record that Portland, San Antonio or Oklahoma City has, but they’re close and they’re very capable of putting it all together to beat a team that comes out of the West.” – Frank Vogel on Houston

"I’m still probably going to forget a few plays in the game. I'm still probably going to have some mishaps that's uncharacteristic of me but I'm a lot better than I was a week ago." – Danny Granger on returning to the court

“Dwight’s one of the guys that is a reason why Roy sets out in the offseason to add some muscle, so he can bang with somebody with the strength of a Dwight Howard.” – Frank Vogel

“It’ll be a tough game against the best center in the league right now. He’s going to be a handful. I just have to keep him out of easy points and no easy dunks for him. It’s going to be a big test for me.” – Roy Hibbert on Dwight Howard

Noteworthy

  • The Pacers have won the previous three meetings, including sweeping last year’s season-series.
  • In October, the Rockets swept the pair of preseason games with the Pacers in the Philippines and Taiwan as part of the NBA Global Games.
  • Houston is 8-1 against Eastern Conference opponents.
  • Indiana’s loss on Wednesday in Miami was the highest-rated non-Christmas Day regular-season game on ESPN ever in Indy.

Last Meeting

March 27: The Pacers scored the first six points of the game and would lead the entire way – and by as many as 19 – in a 100-91 win over the Rockets in Houston. The win was part of a four-game trip out West in which the Pacers swept. The Pacers held the top offensive team in check, to 39 percent shooting and more than a dozen points below their season average.

Roy Hibbert posted big numbers: 28 points and 13 rebounds. Lance Stephenson scored a season-high 21 points on 9-of-14 shooting, and both Paul George and Tyler Hansbrough added 16. David West sat out his sixth straight game with a lower back sprain. Rockets guard James Harden was just 6-for-24 and finished with a team-high 22 points, plus eight assists. Greg Smith swallowed up a career-high 19 rebounds and scored 18 points.

Broadcast Information | Find Local Listings »

TV: FOX Sports Indiana – Chris Denari (play-by-play), Quinn Buckner (analyst), Brooke Olzendam (sideline reporter/host)
ESPN: Ryan Ruocco (play-by-play), Hubie Brown (analyst)
Radio: FM 107.5/AM 1070 The Fan, Pacers Radio Network – Mark Boyle (play-by-play), Slick Leonard (analyst), Kevin Lee (sideline reporter/host)

Ticket Information

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