After a lackluster performance in their first game back from the All-Star break, the Indiana Pacers seem to be back on track.
The Eastern Conference-leading Pacers look for their third straight win when they play the first of two meetings with the Golden State Warriors in the next week.
The Pacers had the best record in the Eastern Conference at the break last season, but went 14-19 the rest of the season and lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Boston Celtics.
Isiah Thomas was fired as coach and Rick Carlisle was brought in to rectify Indiana’s second-half play, but the Pacers put forth a poor effort in an 89-75 home loss to the New Orleans Hornets in their first game after the break last Tuesday.
“We felt (after the loss to New Orleans) we had to get out there, play hard, play together and show that we’re the best team in the East,” Indiana center Scot Pollard said after the Pacers’ 94-80 win over the Jazz on Sunday.
“Playoffs are coming and that is the time that it really counts so we must continue to play at this level.”
Golden State snapped a two-game losing streak on Saturday, beating the Seattle SuperSonics 94-92 at home.
Jason Richardson scored 24 points for Golden State, which took the lead for good on Clifford Robinson’s 3-pointer with 55 seconds left. The Warriors recovered from consecutive one-point home losses in its previous two contests.
“We’ve been trying to play through injuries, the rumors of guys being traded, all that,” Robinson said. “Now that we know the group of guys that are going to be here, we’re happy. Hopefully, this will help us get our focus back.”
Golden State may be without point guard Speedy Claxton on Tuesday after he injured his right thumb in Saturday’s win. Claxton, who has started the Warriors’ last 17 games, has missed just one game this season while averaging 10.2 points and 4.3 assists.
Forward Mike Dunleavy returned to practice Monday after missing seven of the last nine games with a sprained left ankle. Dunleavy, averaging 12.1 points and 6.3 rebounds, could return against Indiana.
“He looks like a guy who’s coming off that type of injury,” Warriors coach Eric Musselman said. “It’s slow. He wants to suit up, so we’ll see.”
Brian Cardinal is expected to keep Dunleavy’s old starting spot. Cardinal has started the Warriors’ last seven games, averaging 17.0 points and 7.6 rebounds in the first starts of his NBA career.
Indiana and Golden State conclude their season series next Tuesday in Oakland.