Game Preview: Pacers at Celtics
Despite owning the best record in the NBA, the Indiana Pacers have had some trouble getting up for games against the league's lesser teams recently.
They'll try to find the necessary motivation as they continue a stretch of schedule that's heavy on sub-.500 clubs when they visit the Boston Celtics on Saturday night.
The Pacers have won three in a row, but they haven't been dominant in their last eight games, during which they've faced one team with a winning record. After facing Boston, Indiana hosts last-place Utah on Sunday.
The Pacers blew a 17-point first-half lead against NBA-worst Milwaukee on Thursday and had to rally for 101-96 win.
"That's how the NBA goes. These teams that are sub-.500, they have nothing to lose," said center Roy Hibbert, who had 24 points and 12 rebounds. "The guys go out there and play hard, but we got the win."
The Celtics will be the latest opponent looking to upset the Pacers after snapping a five-game losing streak with a 115-104 victory over Atlanta on Wednesday.
"You can't look at records. Everybody plays at different levels throughout the year," Indiana coach Frank Vogel said. "Different teams play better at different points of the season."
The Pacers may be without point guard George Hill, as he suffered a bruised shoulder on a fall against Milwaukee. Vogel said Hill is day-to-day.
The Celtics are banged up as well, with Avery Bradley, Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk sidelined because of injuries.
In Bradley's place, coach Brad Stevens gave Jerryd Bayless his first start as a Celtic against the Hawks. Acquired by Boston on Jan. 7 in a trade with Memphis, the guard scored a season-high 29 points.
"I understand what Brad is looking for and Brad really is really defensively minded. The shots are going to come and go some days or not - depends on the day," Bayless said. "(On Wednesday) they were going well.
"When we play together defensively and we're helping each other, we're out there and everybody is covering up after each other we're a good team and we have to do that more constantly and we'll be OK."
Bayless went 5-of-8 on 3-pointers in the win, providing the Celtics with some much-needed outside shooting. Boston had gone 19 of 75 (25.3 percent) on 3s in the previous four games.
"You want to ride it, that's for sure, and everybody's been in those moments where the basket looks bigger than other days," Stevens said of Bayless. "And you get into a little bit of a rhythm."
The Pacers have won both meetings with the Celtics this season by an average of 21.0 points.