Sacramento (49-19) at Indiana (50-17)

  • Game info: 7:30 pm EST Fri Mar 19, 2004
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The Sacramento Kings and Indiana Pacers are the only two teams in the NBA to have clinched playoff berths. They could be the last two clubs to take the court in June.

The Pacers look to continue their strong play, while the Kings try to end their recent skid when they meet for the second time this season.

Indiana owns an NBA-best 50-17 record, and Sacramento is second in the league with a 49-19 mark. The Pacers and Kings, however, come into this contest heading in different directions.

Indiana beat the Portland Trail Blazers 80-71 at home on Wednesday night for its eighth win in nine games. Sacramento, meanwhile, fell 114-108 on the road to the woeful Washington Wizards on Wednesday for its second straight loss and third in four contests.

However, the Pacers will be without their emotional leader for this matchup.

Ron Artest was suspended for one game on Friday for elbowing Portland’s Kenny Anderson in Wednesday’s victory despite no foul being called on the play. Artest led the league in flagrant fouls last season.

The All-Star forward scored 21 points to lead the Pacers on Wednesday, helping Rick Carlisle become just the sixth coach to win at least 50 games in his first three seasons since the NBA expanded the schedule to 82 games in 1967.

“It’s hard to win 50,” Carlisle said. “It’s never easy. You have to give all the credit to the players.”

Carlisle won exactly 50 in each of his first two seasons coaching the Detroit Pistons before being replaced by Larry Brown last summer. He was hired by the Pacers in September and joined Pat Riley, Phil Jackson, Paul Westphal, Gregg Popovich and Rick Adelman as the only coaches to accomplish the feat.

The Pacers are 11-1 at home against Western Conference opponents, including seven consecutive wins, but they’re not taking anything for granted.

“We’re not going to celebrate anything,” All-Star forward Jermaine O’Neal said. “Fifty wins is good, but we could be out in the first round.”

Sacramento has lost two straight for the first time since Jan. 23-25, and is looking to avoid three consecutive defeats for the first time since January 2003.

The Kings suffered one of their most lopsided losses of the season Tuesday, 94-77 at New Jersey, and followed that with Wednesday’s defeat to the 21-46 Wizards.

“We just seem to be out of sync as a team,” Adelman said. “We are not playing at the same level. We play in spurts, and spurts are not good enough to win in this league. We are going through a tough time now, and now is the time to stay together.”

The Kings beat the Pacers 103-98 at Conseco Fieldhouse last season for just their third win in 17 visits to Indianapolis since the franchise relocated from Kansas City to Sacramento for the 1985-86 season.

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