Indiana owns the best record in the Eastern Conference, but has lost three of its last five games. Houston, meanwhile, has dropped four of its last six after a season high-tying four-game winning streak.
The Pacers began their road trip on Saturday, and matched their worst loss of the season with a 102-80 defeat to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Indiana also lost by 22 points to the Los Angeles Lakers on Nov. 30 at Staples Center.
Jermaine O’Neal led Indiana with 16 points but hit just 6-of-18 from the field for the Pacers, who continued their inconsistent shooting by hitting on just 35 percent of their field goals.
The Pacers, who are just 6-6 in their last 12 games after starting the season 14-2, hit under 40 percent of their shots for the third straight game.
“I don’t know what the solution is for bad shooting,” O’Neal said. “Especially if you’re missing the shots you should take. I do know that your effort has to be a lot higher when you’re not shooting the ball well.”
Indiana could have a hard time getting back on track offensively against Houston.
The Rockets are tied for first in the NBA with the defending champion San Antonio Spurs in opponents field-goal percentage (39.4), and are third in the league in scoring defense with opponents posting 85.2 points a game.
Houston, however, is coming off one of its worst defensive performances of the season. The Rockets allowed 100 points for just the fourth time this season in falling 102-87 on the road to the Phoenix Suns on Saturday.
After being tied at the half, the Rockets were outscored 58-43 in the second half.
“I have to give them a better plan, because right now 38 points (allowed) in the fourth quarter, that’s too many points,” Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy said.
STANDINGS (through Dec. 21): Pacers - 1st place, Central Division. Rockets - 4th place (tied), 2 1/2 GB, Midwest Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Pacers - O’Neal, 20.3 ppg and 10.0 rpg; Artest, 3.9 apg. Rockets - Francis, 17.2 ppg and 5.2 apg; Yao, 9.3 rpg.
2002-03 SEASON SERIES: 1-1.
LAST MEETING: Dec. 18, 2002; Rockets, 95-83. At Houston, Yao had 29 points, 10 rebounds and six blocked shots against the Pacers, who held him scoreless two months earlier in his NBA debut.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Pacers - 9-5 on the road; Rockets - 9-2 at home.