Tuesday, March 20 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, 7 p.m.
Countdown to Tipoff: Pacers (25-18) vs. Clippers (26-18)
By Conrad Brunner
SCOUTING THE PACERS: Almost exactly one year ago, consecutive victories over the Knicks in mid-March snapped the Pacers out of a funk and propelled them on a late-season run to secure a playoff berth. How they respond to back-to-back losses to New York over the weekend could be equally as important. With those defeats, the Pacers (25-18) have dropped six of eight to fall 2½ games behind third-place Orlando and 2½ games ahead of seventh-place Boston. They remain a virtual lock to reach the postseason but their pursuit of homecourt advantage in the first round has been jeopardized by their post-All-Star break slump.
In their last six losses, the Pacers have allowed averages of 101.7 points, .457 shooting overall and .390 from the 3-point line, all representing major slippage for a team that got off to a 17-7 start thanks to defense. Rebounding also has been a problem; in the six losses, they've been beaten by an average of 10 per game on the boards. The offense likewise has hit a flat spot as key players Danny Granger (14.8 points, .402 shooting overall, .225 from the arc in the last eight games) and David West (11 points, eight rebounds in the last two) have struggled.
The Pacers could get a much-needed spark from the debut of Leandro Barbosa, the electrifying guard obtained Thursday from Toronto for a second-round pick and cash. Barbosa will bring explosive scoring, speed, energy and additional depth to the second unit.
SCOUTING THE CLIPPERS: Much like the Pacers, the Clippers are trying to rebuild momentum. They started fast and were 15-7 when Chauncey Billups was lost for the season with a torn Achilles tendon and have gone 11-11 since. They are coming off consecutive victories that required fourth-quarter rallies, including an 87-83 overtime decision against Detroit Sunday as Chris Paul had 19 points, 15 assists, nine rebounds, four steals and zero turnovers. The schedule has not been kind, as the Clippers just concluded a stretch of nine games in 12 days, and Tuesday's game kicks off three in three days, all on the road.
Also like the Pacers, the Clippers hope a recent acquisition will provide a lift. They obtained high-scoring guard Nick Young from the Wizards last week in the three-game trade that sent Nene to the Wizards and JaVale McGee to the Nuggets. Young averaged 16.6 points with the Wizards and scored nine in his Clippers debut Sunday. He adds scoring punch to a team already featuring Blake Griffin (21.1 points, 11.0 rebounds), Mo Williams (13.9 points off the bench) and Caron Butler (12.4 points).
KEY MATCHUP: Darren Collison backed up Paul in New Orleans and in fact thrived as the fill-in starter while CP3 was injured. Though he has struggled since the All-Star break, Collison is coming off consecutive 15-point games. Paul averaged 19.7 points, 8.4 assists, 3.7 rebounds, 2.36 steals and is shooting .491 overall and .393 from the 3-point line, so he represents an imposing challenge for Indiana's young point guard.
QUOTE MARKS: "The one thing I know that I can do is bring energy and speed it up a little bit. I like to run a lot up and down and I'm sure this team is doing that a lot. As much as we can do to run, I will be the first one to do the best." - Barbosa
INJURY REPORT: For the Pacers, Jeff Foster (back) is out. For the Clippers, Chauncey Billups (torn left Achilles tendon) 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 7. The radio broadcast will air on WIBC 93 FM, featuring Mark Boyle and Bob "Slick" Leonard, with Kevin Lee hosting the pre-game and halftime shows.