Detroit and Indiana have developed a heated rivalry over the last few seasons. This time around, however, the matchup doesn’t have quite as much drama.
The Pistons and the Pacers get together for the first time since last season’s playoffs as they meet at Conseco Fieldhouse.
Detroit and Indiana have been among the Eastern Conference’s top teams for several years. The Pistons beat the Pacers in the conference finals en route to the 2004 NBA title, and knocked the Pacers out in the second round last season before losing to San Antonio in the NBA Finals.
The rivalry took on more weight last season following a brawl in Detroit on Nov. 19, 2004, in which Indiana’s Ron Artest entered the stands. Artest was suspended for the rest of the season as a result of the incident.
This season, the Pistons own the best record in the league—but the Pacers have struggled to a .500 mark. Artest was benched after requesting a trade in December, and was eventually dealt to Sacramento for Peja Stojakovic.
“That was two teams at the top of their game competing for the top spot in the East and that’s no longer the case,” Detroit’s Ben Wallace said. “That’s going to change the game itself.
“Regardless of who’s playing with who, when two of the top teams come together in this league for the top spots it’s always going to be an exciting battle. Once you lose that, you lose some of the edge. The game loses some of the steam.”
Indiana’s Jermaine O’Neal is out with a groin tear, Jamaal Tinsley has missed time with an elbow injury and Austin Croshere did not play in Wednesday’s 105-79 win over the Los Angeles Lakers because of a concussion.
Guard Stephen Jackson went down hard late in the first half and was taken to a hospital. He was diagnosed with a hip contusion and elbow abrasion but had no fractures, and is questionable against the Pistons.
“We’re behind the eight ball in terms of our personnel that are available,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “We’re going to have to fly by the seat of our pants here and figure out enough ways to score enough points and get stops.”
Despite having just nine healthy players, the Pacers managed to end a six-game losing streak Wednesday. In his second game with Indiana, Stojakovic helped make up for Jackson’s absence in the second half and finished the game with 26 points and 13 rebounds in 41 minutes.
“Some of those rainbows coming out of the clouds were reminiscent of Reggie (Miller),” guard Anthony Johnson said, “but Reggie was Reggie. Peja has his own style.”
The Pacers, who are starting a six-game homestand, held Los Angeles star Kobe Bryant to 26 points, 10 below his average, and scored 100 points for the first time since Jan. 11.
“The energy our guys played with was exceptional. It was a much-needed win for us,” Carlisle said. “This is the kind of game we talked about having to play, more up-tempo, more movement.”
The Pistons have won 13 of 14, including Friday’s 87-80 win over the Philadelphia 76ers. Richard Hamilton scored 30 points and Rasheed Wallace added 20 for Detroit, which opened a three-game road trip.