The Indiana Pacers already have secured a spot in the playoffs.
The Cleveland Cavaliers wish they could say the same.
The East’s hottest teams will meet when the Pacers visit Gund Arena.
Indiana has won seven straight and now looks to match its longest winning streak of the season, an eight-game run from Nov. 14-28.
While the team locked up a postseason berth with its win Sunday at Denver, Indiana has bigger goals. The Pacers are eight games ahead of Detroit for first place in the East, and a game better than Sacramento for the league’s best record.
Cleveland has won five straight for its longest win streak since taking six in a row Dec. 5-16, 2000.
The recent surge has propelled the Cavs into sixth place in the East, though they remain in a tight battle with five other teams for the conference’s final three playoff berths.
“The possibility of the playoffs is right there,” LeBron James said. “If we want to grab it we can, and I say we can.”
Cleveland is opening a five-game homestand against the league’s best road team. Five of the Pacers’ last seven games have been on the road, where they are 24-10 this season.
Indiana beat the Celtics 99-81 in Boston on Friday despite All-Stars Jermaine O’Neal and Ron Artest each shooting 3-for-11 from the field and combining for just 16 points. Reggie Miller led the Pacers with 18 points while Al Harrington and Jonathan Bender each added 16 off the bench.
“We’ve got so many guys that step up in a major, major way,” O’Neal said. “We’ve got guys that could be starters on other teams. It’s beneficial to our team when guys go out with injuries, guys can step in there and do it in a big way and that’s been our story the whole entire year and tonight was no different.”
Carlos Boozer had his seventh double-double in eight games with 11 points and 13 rebounds for the Cavs, who have won 14 of their past 18 games against Eastern opponents.
“We are one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, the way we’re playing and jelling together,” James said. “We’re closing games out. It’s just unbelievable what we’re doing.”
Ilgauskas has played for some bad teams in his seven years in Cleveland, which already has 12 wins more than it had all of last season.
“You don’t have to tell me we’ve won five in a row, I know,” Ilgauskas said. “I’ve been here a long time. Hopefully, we’ll keep this thing going.”
STANDINGS (through March 12): Pacers - 1st place, Central Division. Cavaliers - 5th place, 20 GB, Central Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Pacers - O’Neal, 20.6 ppg and 10.3 rpg; Tinsley, 5.6 apg. Cavaliers - James, 20.8 ppg; Boozer, 11.4 rpg; McInnis, 6 apg.
SEASON SERIES: Pacers, 3-0.
LAST MEETING: Dec. 30; Pacers, 92-89. At Cleveland, O’Neal scored 21 points and Artest added 18 as Indiana wrecked James’ 19th birthday. James had 22 points and 10 rebounds, but could not shake free from Artest in the fourth quarter.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Pacers - 24-10 on the road; Cavaliers - 18-13 at home.