Pacers-Celtics Preview

The Associated Press

Coming off a victory over the top team in the Eastern Conference, the Indiana Pacers are full of confidence.

Despite nagging injuries to some key players, the Boston Celtics also have reason to feel good about themselves of late.

The Pacers look to win consecutive games in Boston for the first time since 2004 on Friday night when they try for a fourth straight victory against the Celtics, who have won three in a row.

Fresh off an embarrassing 102-83 home loss to Orlando on Tuesday, Indiana (12-5) bounced back one night later with a 95-90 win at Chicago. Danny Granger had 22 points with nine rebounds and Roy Hibbert scored 20 as Indiana overcame a 10-point halftime deficit to hand the East-leading Bulls their first home defeat.

"Right now we expect to win," Granger said.

The Pacers certainly feel that way when facing Boston (8-9).

Granger scored 21 in a 97-83 win over the aging Celtics on Jan. 14, eight days after the Pacers snapped a seven-game skid at Boston with an 87-84 victory.

Indiana has won just twice in 13 games at TD Garden since a three-game winning streak there that spanned the 2003-04 and 2004-05 seasons. However, after holding the Celtics to their second-fewest points of the season earlier this month, the Pacers are confident they can win just about anywhere.

"We have confidence that we can beat any team in any building,'' coach Frank Vogel said. "We knew to win (at Boston) we'd have to make it like an Eastern Conference playoff-type battle. Just grind it out.''

Boston, which ranks near the bottom of the NBA averaging 89.5 points per game, has shot 38.9 percent against the Pacers this season. Granger, like many, believes one reason for the Celtics' offensive struggles has to do with time finally catching up with the veteran club.

"One thing you can't battle, you can't fight, is age,'' said Granger, averaging just 12.8 points on 33.9 percent shooting in 10 games at TD Garden. "They all are Hall-of-Famers, but you get to a point where age catches up with you and it's hard to compete at the level you once competed at. I don't know if they're there yet. They still could bounce back this season. I'm just glad we had the two wins.''

Recording a third victory, however, might not come that easy for the Pacers as the Celtics could be in the process of bouncing back.

Playing without injured starters Ray Allen (ankle), Rajon Rondo (wrist) and Jermaine O'Neal (knee), Boston overcame a 27-point deficit to stun Orlando 91-83 on Thursday for its second victory in four days over the Magic. Paul Pierce had 14 points with 10 assists while rookie E'Twaun Moore scored 16 as the visiting Celtics outscored the Magic 54-25 in the second half, including 27-8 in the fourth quarter.

"It's definitely a confidence builder for our whole team,'' said Moore, who scored 22 points in his previous 12 games this season. "Knowing we can play with some of the best teams out there.''

If the three prominent injured Celtics miss this contest, Boston again could turn to Pierce. The veteran forward has averaged 25.7 points and 9.0 assists over the last three games.

Pierce scored 21 at Indiana two weeks ago, but was held to 10 on 3-of-17 shooting in the home loss to the Pacers earlier this month.