Indiana’s 78-74 loss to Houston at Conseco Fieldhouse on Friday night was its first in six games and just the second in its last 14.
The Pacers have spent the entire season at the top of the Eastern Conference thanks to their depth and balance. Both were sorely lacking against the Rockets.
Jermaine O’Neal had 31 points, but was the only Pacer in double figures, going 12-for-25 from the floor. His teammates were a combined 16-for-51.
“We just couldn’t put the ball in the hole,” said Pacers guard Reggie Miller, who scored six points. “It was a combination of our poor shooting and their good defense.”
Ron Artest, Indiana’s second-leading scorer, continued to struggle from the floor while playing with an injured left thumb. He scored nine points on 3-of-18 shooting. Artest is 15-for-50 in the last three games while playing with his left (non-shooting) thumb heavily wrapped.
“I don’t have any doubt he was affected by the injury,” Indiana coach Rick Carlisle said. “He showed why he’s a big-time gamer and should be an All-Star this year. By coming out and playing, he showed a lot of heart.”
The news wasn’t all bad for Indiana. Minnesota’s 80-79 win over Detroit means Carlisle will coach the East squad at the All-Star game in Los Angeles on Feb. 15.
Indiana’s bench will be a little thinner as reserve forward Scot Pollard, scratched from Friday night’s game, will not make the trip to Washington because of a severe case of the flu.
Washington had its two-game winning streak snapped at Boston on Friday night, dropping a 100-89 decision to the Celtics. The Wizards, who trailed 78-59 at the end of the third quarter, used a 24-10 run sparked by seven points from Juan Dixon and six from Christian Laettner to pull within 88-83.
“It’s too bad that we have to play so poorly to play so well,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “That’s not the mark of a winning team, quite frankly.”
The Wizards are 7-21 overall and 2-14 on the road since losing shooting guard Gilbert Arenas to an abdominal strain.