The Indiana Pacers played poorly after the All-Star break last season following a dominating first half. They hope their lackluster performance in their first game back from the break isn’t the beginning of another collapse.
Indiana looks to avoid losing consecutive games for the first time in nearly a month when it visits the lowly Washington Wizards.
The Pacers had the best record in the Eastern Conference at the break last season, making Isiah Thomas the All-Star coach. Indiana, however, went 14-19 the rest of the season and lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Boston Celtics.
Larry Bird, Indiana’s new president of basketball operations, wasn’t happy with the Pacers’ second-half play so he fired Thomas in August and replaced him with Rick Carlisle.
Carlisle was this season’s All-Star coach after leading the Pacers to the best record in the conference. But in its first game after the break Tuesday, Indiana put forth a poor effort in an 89-75 home loss to the New Orleans Hornets.
The Pacers haven’t lost two in a row since Jan. 23-24.
“They had us on our heels all night and they competed at a higher level,” Carlisle said. “This is going to have to be a wake-up call for us in how teams are going to be coming at us in the second half.”
Indiana starting forward and defensive stopper Ron Artest will be out indefinitely after the Pacers announced Thursday he will have surgery to repair a ligament tear in his left thumb.
Artest, named to his first All-Star team this season, sprained the thumb on Jan. 17 against the New Jersey Jets and aggravated the injury Tuesday night.
Carlisle said the team was hopeful Artest will be able to return before the playoffs start in mid-April.
“What makes it so serious is that we only have 28 games left in the regular season,” Pacers guard Reggie Miller said. “When he does come back, is that going to be enough time for him to get his rhythm and get ready for the playoffs? Not knowing at what point and date he’s going to get back, that’s what makes it tough.”
Washington is also playing without one of its top players, leading scorer Larry Hughes, who is out with a broken wrist.
The Wizards lost their third straight since Hughes was placed on the injured list, falling 120-98 in New Orleans on Wednesday.
“You know, (the Hornets) are playing for a whole lot more than we’re playing for, although I thought playing for pride may mean a lot more,” Wizards first-year coach Eddie Jordan said. “We’ve just got to find a way to pull together. Can this group do that? We’ll see.”