Pacers, Celtics meet with No. 4 seed lurking

The Indiana Pacers and Boston Celtics will be getting better
acquainted over the next few days, and possibly beyond.

The Pacers (45-30) play the Celtics (44-31) in the first of two
meetings in an eight-day stretch on Friday night in Boston. They
are also in line to square off in the first round of the Eastern
Conference playoffs should the standings hold over the final games
of the regular season.

Indiana and Boston each boast a win on their home court against the
other, but they aren’t exactly playing their best basketball in a
bid to perhaps secure the conference’s fourth seed and home-court
advantage in the potential first-round playoff matchup.

The Pacers have lost five of six following Wednesday’s 107-99 loss
at Oklahoma City while Boston dropped four in a row before posting
a 116-106 victory at Cleveland on Tuesday.

“We’ve got to take it as the playoffs have started for us,” Celtics
guard Marcus Smart told reporters. “It’s a playoff team and it’s a
possible team we might play. So for us to come out and really build
some momentum against them before the playoffs starts, who knows if
we may match up with them. But if we do, we’re ready and we built
up that momentum against them early.”

Smart joined forward Jayson Tatum in scoring 21 points as the
Celtics used a late fourth-quarter kick to fend off the Cavaliers
in a game that saw six-time All-Star Kyrie Irving sit out for rest
purposes.

Irving, who averages team-best totals in points (23.8) and assists
(7.1), scored 18 points in a 102-101 setback in Indiana on Nov. 3
and added 12 in a 135-108 romp against the Pacers in Boston on Jan.
9. Indiana was playing the back end of a tough back-to-back set in
the more recent meeting.

Small forward Gordon Hayward avenged a 2-for-10 performance for
four points in the first meeting with the Pacers by making 5 of 7
shots — including both 3-point attempts — en route to 14 points
in the blowout win over Indiana.

“We want to play well against them and also get home court,”
Hayward said. “They’re a good team. They play together, they move
the ball well, they play to their strengths, they’re going to be
tough. I think it will be a fun game for us, hopefully one we can
look to improve and kinda get ourselves going.”

Indiana likely can echo the same thing as its recent tough stretch
was extended by former Pacer forward Paul George, who scored seven
of his 31 points in a decisive 24-0 run on Wednesday.

Forward Bojan Bogdanovic, who leads the team by averaging 18.0
points, answered a 35-point performance in Sunday’s 124-88 win over
Denver with 28 points against Oklahoma City.

Indiana misfired on 14 consecutive shots during the pivotal stretch
against the Thunder, much to the chagrin of the 29-year-old
Bogdanovic.

“In the last month, in every single game, we’ve got those five or
10 minutes of play-calls that we don’t execute (well),” Bogdanovic
told the Indianapolis Star. “We get nervous for no reason.”

Bogdanovic had 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting in the first meeting
versus Boston before being limited to just seven on a 3-of-9 effort
from the floor in the rematch.

Power forward Domantas Sabonis has improved his club-best rebound
average (9.3) by totaling 51 boards in the last four games. He had
12 points and nine rebounds in the first encounter with the Celtics
and 20 and seven in the rematch.

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