The Indiana Pacers continue to make things tough on themselves as they try to remain a serious contender in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Indiana (22-36) fell 113-107 at home to Chicago on Wednesday for its 13th loss in 16 games. In the fourth quarter of that contest, Granger—scoring a team-high 18.2 points per game—struck Chicago’s Andres Nocioni in the face, earning him a one-game suspension.
Despite the skid, the Pacers are still hanging around in the Eastern race - they are within four games of the eighth and final playoff spot - in part because only five of the conference’s teams have winning records.
The Pacers, though, will need to improve their play if they want to make a push in the final stretch of the season. The challenge will only get tougher Friday as they try to avoid a fourth consecutive defeat overall, and fifth in a row to Toronto.
The Raptors (32-24), fourth in the East, have won three straight games, including a 102-98 victory at Indiana on Monday night. Toronto already has clinched its first season series win over the Pacers since 2000-01, and now seeks its fourth straight home victory over Indiana.
The Raptors have won their last four games at Air Canada Centre overall, and each of those victories was by at least 17 points.
“Games are getting more crucial down the stretch and we have to do a better job at home,” said Toronto’s Chris Bosh, who had 28 points in the Raptors’ 107-85 home win over Minnesota on Wednesday.
Bosh had 24 points and 10 rebounds against Indiana on Monday, and he is averaging 22.7 points and 10.0 boards in three games versus the Pacers this season.
In Monday’s meeting, Toronto used a 13-2 run in the final period to beat the Pacers. Two nights later, Indiana blew an 11-point second-half lead and shot 6-for-19 in the fourth quarter against Chicago.
“It seems like I say this quite a bit because it happens quite a bit,” coach Jim O’Brien told the Pacers’ official Web site. “We’re not getting the job done in the fourth quarter and it’s cost us a number of winnable basketball games.”
Mike Dunleavy had 25 points and Travis Diener added 22 for the Pacers, who shot 41.0 percent in playing their 18th straight game without star Jermaine O’Neal (knee) and ninth in a row minus point guard Jamaal Tinsley (knee).
“We just have to find a way to make plays,” said Diener, who is taking Tinsley’s spot in the starting lineup. “One night it’s this; one night it’s that.”
Dunleavy and Diener combined for 24 points in Monday’s loss to Toronto as the Pacers shot 42.5 percent and were outrebounded 46-39.
The Pacers bench will be thinner than usual Friday. Reserve forward Shawne Williams will miss at least this game after a man who had just left his home was arrested on a murder charge Wednesday night. Team CEO Donnie Walsh said Williams was not suspended but needed time to sort out what happened.
As for the Raptors, they appear firmly entrenched in the playoff race, but remain focused on finishing strong. They have won 15 of their last 22 games, with the last nine victories by an average margin of 23.2 points.
“We are just coming out and playing basketball,” Toronto’s Jamario Moon said. “We are really not paying to much attention to the standings right now, we just want to come out and get the job done.”