The Indiana Pacers will try to pull out of a lengthy tailspin on Saturday night when they visit the Washington Wizards for the second half of a back-to-back set.
The Pacers dropped their third straight decision and their 14th in the past 16 games when they fell 117-104 to the Phoenix Suns on Friday in Indianapolis. Indiana trailed for the duration and was down by as many as 26 points in the fourth quarter, unable to overcome poor shooting from the floor.
Indiana’s 36-of-85 performance from the floor (42.4 percent) resulted in the Pacers scoring less than their season-long average of 114.4 points per game for a sixth consecutive contest.
Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said he believes defensive woes are causing the team’s inconsistent scoring.
“The way we’re set up, we have to be able to get enough stops to get ourselves playing in the pace-tempo game,” Carlisle said postgame on Friday. “It’s not about whether a guy like Ben Mathurin can go out there and play 32 minutes and score 20 points; we’re moving him in the direction of being a championship-caliber, two-way player.”
Mathurin scored a team-high 22 points off the bench on Friday.
Washington enters Saturday’s contest fresh off ending its own three-game skid with a 118-104 victory over the visiting Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday.
Kristaps Porzingis scored 36 points in the win, Bradley Beal recorded 17 points and 10 assists, and Deni Avdija contributed 20 points and 13 rebounds.
The victory came with Kyle Kuzma sidelined for a second consecutive game while recovering from an ankle injury. Kuzma told reporters on Friday he has “to make sure I’m 100 (percent) to finish the season strong.”
Kuzma will be sidelined again on Saturday, but Monte Morris is due to return from a back injury. Otherwise, Washington’s roster is stable after a chaotic week around the league at the trade deadline.
The Wizards moved Rui Hachimura to the Los Angeles Lakers for Kendrick Nunn on Jan. 23 but otherwise stood firm on their squad.
“You also have to dive into the group in its totality,” Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr. said before Friday’s practice. “When this group’s been together, we’ve been relatively good and certainly trending in the right direction as of late. Health aside, I think we’ve got something.”
Prior to the three-game skid with losses to the Portland Trail Blazers, Brooklyn Nets and Cleveland Cavaliers, Washington had won six straight. The Wizards have climbed to 10th place in the Eastern Conference, good for the last play-in spot if the regular season ended on Friday.
Indiana’s dramatic slide, which began on Jan. 11, has relegated the Pacers to 12th place in the Eastern Conference heading into the Saturday matchup. All-Star Tyrese Haliburton was absent from the lineup for 10 games during that stretch due to knee and elbow injuries, and the Pacers lost nine of those contests.
Haliburton, the NBA leader in assists at 10.3 per game, returned to action on Feb. 2, but the Pacers are 1-4 with him back in the lineup.
The Saturday matchup will be the last of the regular season between the Pacers and Wizards, with Indiana having won two of the previous three meetings.
–Field Level Media