Challenging schedule should prevent letup for Pacers before All-Star break

The Pacers are enjoying a seven-game win streak, their best stretch of the season. They’ve won games they should against weaker teams, such as Brooklyn and Orlando, and they’ve won against quality foes like Houston and Oklahoma City.

At 29-22, they have the sixth best record in the Eastern Conference behind Cleveland, Boston, Toronto, Washington, and Atlanta. They are just a game out of fourth and two out of third. Things are tight in the East, as was to be expected.

They have six games left before All-Star break. It’s a tightly-packed schedule before the much-anticipated weeklong break for the teams. Six games in nine days is no easy task, featuring two road-home back-to-backs.

The good thing for this team is they cannot lose their focus. Now in what is often referred to as the dog days of the NBA season, just before All-Star break, this team has no time to relax with games.

During this six-games-in-nine-days stretch, all but one of the four opponents — Cleveland (twice), Washington (twice), Milwaukee, and San Antonio — are playoff teams. No way they can overlook any of them.

That run to the break begins Wednesday night against the conference leader and reigning NBA Champion Cleveland Cavaliers. And it’s at home, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse where they have won 20 of 26 games this season. Their home record ranks third in the league. Only Golden State (22-3) and Cleveland (22-5) have been better in from of their home crowd.

See Also: Pacers meet Cavaliers in pivotal matchup

Paul George, who has great respect for LeBron James and enjoys the matchup, said it wasn’t hard to not look ahead to Wednesday. That’s something he’s had to learn to do.

“Nah, not really. We’re not looking ahead at all,” George said after the Pacers beat the Thunder on Monday. “Every game we play from here on out is going to be a Cleveland-like night, playing against great competition and good teams. When we get to that point when we play against the Clevelands, we’ll be ready. But we can’t overlook or look forward to any of these games because they are all going to be tough ones.”

Paul George and LeBron James slap hands during a playoff game.

LeBron James, who has rested and not played in the Cavaliers’ last two visits to Indianapolis, assured everyone that he would be out there this time.

“I ain’t sitting out tonight,” he told reporters at morning shootaround. “All right.”

He came across annoyed by the question. (Watch the video in the link above.) But it was a fair question given that thousands of basketball fans in Indy bought tickets to see LeBron against the Pacers, only to see him on the bench in a suit.

“Just historically, it’s just been tough to win in this building,” James continued. “They’ve always been really good at home, no matter the lineup no matter who’s been on the team. Historically they’ve been very good [at home] and the fans really support them.”

George said he fully expected the four-time NBA MVP to play this time around.

“Yeah, yeah yeah yeah. I’m excited,” he said. “I’m always excited about these division matchups and getting to go against the best. I look forward to the matchup. He missed one already, I don’t think he’ll miss another one.”

James is second in the league in minutes played per game at 37.6, just one-tenth behind Toronto’s Kyle Lowry. He’s 11th in total minutes played, and he’s played in 47 of Cleveland’s 50 games this season. Since entering the league in 2003, he’s never missed a playoff game and, incredibly, he’s led his teams to seven straight NBA Finals.

Indiana is hot right now, too, winners in 14 of 18 games since Dec. 30.

“Another very good team — the champions — are coming in,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan said Monday. “They have a lot of guys that can break you down with the ball. Good isolation players in Kyrie (Irving) and LeBron. And they have 3-point shooters. They can hurt you with isolation as well as from behind the 3-point line.

“They’re the champs. So we’re going to see the best on Wednesday.”

Once the All-Star break begins for the Pacers, at approximately, 10:00 pm ET next Thursday (Feb. 16), they will have almost 70 percent of the regular season behind them — and just 25 games left.

Injury Update:
Starting power forward Thad Young will miss his third consecutive game Wednesday after suffering a sprained left wrist last Friday in Brooklyn. Starting center Myles Turner revealed that he has bronchitis, but he plans to play through it.

[Photo: Frank McGrath]

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