The 2022-23 regular season is one week away from wrapping up, with the Wine & Gold hosting the Pacers on Sunday night in their penultimate home contest of the campaign, again looking to lock up the 4th- seed in the East.
The Cavaliers couldn’t seal the deal on Friday night when their likely First Round Playoff opponent rolled into town, blowing open a tight game late and taking the season series. New York’s Jalen Brunson went off for a career-high 48 points, picking up the slack for a Knicks team dealing with the absence of an injured Julius Randle. The Cavaliers, playing again without Jarrett Allen and Isaac Okoro, got their second straight 40-point performance from Donovan Mitchell, but it wasn’t enough – dropping consecutive games for the first time since late February.
The young Pacers (34-44) have been competitive all season, but they recently suffered through their fourth extended losing streak since the start of the calendar year before snapping their most recent four-game skein – losing all four by double-digits and giving up at least 140 points in two – with a Friday night win over Oklahoma City. Seven Pacers notched double-figures, Jalen Smith doubled-up and their bench combined for 54 points in the victory.
The Cavs have won six of seven overall in the series and have taken two of three from the Pacers this season, including a 19-point victory in the most recent matchup back in early February in Indianapolis.
THREE POINT SPECIALIST
When it comes to filling it up from beyond the arc, Sunday’s contest will feature two of the best in the Eastern Conference.
Only Golden State’s Klay Thompson has canned more three-pointers this season than Indy’s Buddy Hield – having canned 274 triples on the season. And while Hield is atop the East, Donovan Mitchell ranks 3rd with 237, one behind Jayson Tatum.
Hield has been the model of consistency for the Pacers in his 7th season out of Oklahoma – shooting 45 percent from the floor and 42 percent from deep, with 25 games in which he’s drilled at least five triples.
The sharpshooting guard has been his steady self in 15 career contests against the Cavaliers – averaging 16.7ppg, shooting 52 percent from long-range and having hit at least four three-pointers in 10 of the last 11 meetings.
Donovan Mitchell has been simply sensational all season long, and especially great over his last two games – topping the 40-point plateau in each. Overall, the four-time All-Star has recorded 11 games of at least 40-points, breaking a Cavs single-season record and tying him for second all-time in that category with Kyrie Irving.
One of Mitchell’s 40-point games came earlier this season against Indiana – going for 41 in a mid-December win, going 8-for-15 from long-range, 14-for-24 overall in the home victory.
Before recently being inserted into the starting lineup, Pacers rookie Bennedict Mathurin had started just six games and was one of the league’s top reserves for the bulk of the regular season.
After missing four games after suffering an ankle injury against Houston, the 6th overall pick of last June’s Draft has been starting for Indy, and he’s been every bit as effective in his new role – averaging 15.6ppg in those seven nods, including a 23.3 mark over his last three outings.
So far this year, the native Canadian has tallied 24 games of at least 20 points and a pair of 30-point performances. Before struggling on 4-of-11 shooting in his last meeting against Cleveland, Mathurin posted games of 22 and 23 points in the first two meetings.
If Isaac Okoro is unable to give it a go after missing two straight with a sore left knee, Caris LeVert will again get the starting assignment – and he’s been on a roll heading into his third career Playoff appearance.
Over the last 10 games, the former Wolverine is averaging 15.6 points per, tallying double-figures in nine of those contests – shooting 52 percent from the floor and an even 50 percent from long-distance, averaging 3.0 boards and 4.1 assists with at least one steal in every game over that stretch.