Two teams that have been dominant lately will meet Thursday as the Indiana Pacers host the Los Angeles Clippers. But with the Clippers' front line wreaking havoc on opponents, the Pacers - playing without their starting center - could be in trouble.
Indiana has won 10 of 12, including the past five by an average of 23.8 points, while Los Angeles has won six of seven with the victories coming by 16.7 points.
A sixth straight win for the Pacers (36-21) would be a season best, but they will be without Roy Hibbert, who was suspended for one game after being ejected for an altercation toward the end of a 108-97 win over Golden State on Tuesday.
Hibbert was tossed due to a shoving match with David Lee that began under the basket after a missed shot and eventually spilled into the first row of seats.
The former All-Star is averaging 10.0 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocked shots. If the Pacers find any benefit to a brief absence for Hibbert, it could be strengthened unity after his teammates quickly backed him up during the incident.
"There were two or three guys coming after (Hibbert)," said David West, averaging 20.6 points in 10 games this month. "We preach and talk about togetherness, so that's part of what we're going to do. We're going to defend one another. They came after him too many times."
A weakened interior defense may be too much for the Pacers to overcome against the Clippers (41-18), as Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan continue to score efficiently inside.
Griffin and Jordan's combined 56.4 field-goal percentage this season is tied with Miami's LeBron James and Udonis Haslem for the second-highest among starting frontcourt duos behind Denver's Kosta Koufos and Kenneth Faried (57.4).
Over the last six games, Griffin has averaged 20.2 points on 62.2 percent shooting while Jordan has shot 20 for 31 (64.5 percent). Even small forward Caron Butler has stepped up in the past five with 16.0 points per game on 50.0 percent shooting - both well above his season averages.
That trio combined for 53 points and shot 23 for 31 from the field in a 106-84 win over Charlotte on Tuesday. Griffin and Jordan provided 12 of the team's 13 dunks in that game, and the duo is a big reason why the Clippers have outrebounded five of seven opponents during the team's current surge.
"DeAndre and Blake are two of the best athletes you've got in the league," the Bobcats' Gerald Henderson said. "If you don't put a body on them and be physical with them, they're going to play over the top of the rim."
The Pacers hope to get a bigger boost from Danny Granger in this third game back, but it's been a struggle so far. He's 2 for 17 from the field for seven points since returning from a knee injury that had kept him out all season.
Granger has averaged 26.3 points over his last three games against the Clippers while hitting 11 of 17 3-pointers. He scored 25 in a 102-89 home win over Los Angeles on March 20 in the teams' last matchup.
Griffin had 23 points in that game and scored a career-high 47 in the previous meeting.
Clippers guards Eric Bledsoe and Jamal Crawford are expected to make the trip to Indiana after missing Tuesday's game. Crawford was with his wife, who gave birth to the couple's daughter Monday, and Bledsoe remains day-to-day with a sore left calf.