Pacers focused on building postseason momentum vs. Pistons
The Indiana Pacers are thrilled to see March in their rearview mirror.
The playoff-bound Pacers finished the month 4-10, including a 1-7 mark over the last eight games. They'll try to get back on track in their April opener against visiting Detroit on Monday, the first of back-to-back games between the Central Division rivals.
Following a two-point loss at Boston on Friday, the Pacers dropped a 121-116 decision to Orlando at home on Saturday. Indiana allowed 65 second-half points to the Magic.
"That's inexcusable on our part," point guard Darren Collison told the team's website. "Wide open layups, that's tough. We have to cut down our breakdowns and have that grittiness. We've got to take this one on the chin. This ain't nobody's fault but ours. There's no other way to put it. We just didn't get the job done defensively. It hurts losing this way."
Indiana lost four straight games after leading scorer Victor Oladipo suffered a ruptured quadriceps tendon in his right knee in late January. The Pacers got over the initial shock of losing him by posting a 9-3 record in February but they're increasingly feeling his absence, particularly during crunch time.
"Of course, that could be part of it," coach Nate McMillan said of the team's slump. "But we're without him. He's not coming back this season."
Indiana's focus for the remainder of the regular season is to build some momentum heading toward the postseason.
"You have to be mentally tough to withstand these obstacles. If you can't, you don't belong in the NBA," Collison said. "The good thing is, it's happening right now before the playoffs. If it gets us a little tougher mentally and if we cut down some of the mistakes we're making in the fourth quarter of these games, we'll be fine. We've got to be tougher."
Detroit's best player could also miss Monday's game. All-Star power forward Blake Griffin was a late scratch on Saturday due to a sore left knee and is listed as day-to-day. It was the first time all season Griffin missed a game due to injury. He sat out three other games when coach Dwane Casey felt he needed a rest.
Detroit scored a season-low 31 points in the first half against Portland, then rallied for a 99-90 victory.
"Not having Blake, definitely he was missed, especially early on in the first half," center Andre Drummond said. "We couldn't get it going. We needed him to will us offensively, to get us all going, but we found a way in that second half and made it work."
The Pistons lost three previous games this season without Griffin.
"It was kind of an emotional jolt to us a little bit because he was there warming up and everything. All at once, boom, he's not there," Casey said. "We'll be better from that. We'll be better the next time out. It kind of surprised all of us. We knew his knee was a little sore, we still thought he was going to go. And he tried."
Detroit is fighting for its second playoff berth since 2009. The Pistons maintained their tenuous grasp on sixth place in the Eastern Conference with the victory, but the three teams just behind them -- Brooklyn, Miami and Orlando -- also won on Saturday.
The season series between Indiana and Detroit is knotted at 1-1.
--Field Level Media
Updated March 31, 2019