Even with two of their top players back in the lineup, the Indiana Pacers continue to struggle on the road.
The Pacers look to snap their season-high, eight-game road losing streak with a fourth consecutive victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday night.
Danny Granger(notes) scored 19 points in his return from a 16-game absence because of a heel injury and Troy Murphy(notes) had 21 after missing the last four with a sprained ankle, but Indiana (11-24) fell 116-109 at Minnesota on Friday.
Despite the return of their two top scorers, the Pacers fell to 3-15 on the road where they haven’t won since beating Washington 114-113 on Dec. 12. Indiana is in the midst of its longest road losing stretch since dropping 10 in a row Jan. 9-Feb. 18.
If there’s hope for the Pacers, however, it’s that Granger and Murphy on the floor at the same time should help get them back on track after they reached 100 points for the first time in eight road contests Friday.
Averaging 24.1 points, Granger was not expected to return until Monday’s game against Toronto at the earliest, but played 31 minutes after coach Jim O’Brien said he planned to monitor his All-Star’s minutes. Indiana went 5-11 without Granger.
“This is the longest (layoff) I’ve had since I’ve been playing,” Granger said. “So it’s difficult because I want to play so bad, sometimes I get ahead of myself and they have to pull me back. But for the most part I think I’m ready. It’s just a matter of getting in the flow of things.”
O’Brien may need to keep Granger on the court a little longer in this contest. Granger is averaging 22.0 points in his last four games against the Thunder. He had 24 and Murphy added 22 with nine rebounds in the Pacers’ 117-99 win at Oklahoma City in the teams’ most recent meeting April 5.
Murphy is averaging 14.1 points and 8.9 boards this season.
While Indiana’s recent success against the Thunder would suggest it has a good chance of ending its road skid, Oklahoma City (19-16) is four wins shy of matching its total from last season and in position to make a push for the playoffs.
“There’s never an easy opponent,” coach Scott Brooks told the Thunder’s official Web site. “(The Pacers) are going to come out, they are professionals and still have a lot of pride.”
The Thunder lost for just the second time in eight games, 97-92 to New Orleans at home Wednesday.
“It’s part of our growth and getting better is execution in the fourth quarter,” Brooks said. “We’ve won games some lately but that still doesn’t mean that we have arrived and we’re going to win every game that we play.”
The Thunder have a chance to remain a serious playoff contender with Durant leading the way.
The third-year star is among the league leaders averaging 28.4 points. Though he failed to score 30 points for the second straight contest Wednesday after setting a franchise record with seven straight games of at least that many, he’s averaging 31.0 in four career games versus the Pacers.