Pacers-Rockets Preview

The Associated Press

There is no question that the Indiana Pacers are one of the league's deepest teams, but the Central Division leaders would prefer to have their entire roster available at once.

They could move closer to full strength Wednesday night if Lance Stephenson and David West return for the start of a four-game trip that kicks off against a resurgent Houston Rockets team.

Without Stephenson (strained right hip flexor), point guard George Hill (strained left groin), Danny Granger (sore left knee) and West (sprained lower back), Indiana (44-27) rebounded from Saturday's 87-84 loss at Chicago with a 100-94 victory over Atlanta on Monday.

Starting for the first time since Dec. 15, Gerald Green led six Pacers in double figures with 19 points - 17 in the second half - to help Indiana move closer to its first division title since 2003-04.

"I feel good about our depth,'' coach Frank Vogel said. "If a guy goes down, it won't be the end of the world for us.''

That may be true, but Indiana could use all the healthy bodies it can get as it's percentage points behind New York for the second seed in the Eastern Conference.

Vogel said on Tuesday that Stephenson will probably play against the Rockets, while West could return after missing the last five games. Granger and Hill might see action on Thursday versus Dallas.

Losers of three of four on the road, the Pacers will get their second look at the Rockets (39-31) this season after defeating them 105-95 on Jan. 18. Paul George had 31 points, six rebounds, five steals and three assists to go with his seven 3-pointers.

"Offensively, he's so talented," Rockets forward Chandler Parsons told the team's official website. "He can shoot the ball, he can handle it and he's a great player. I get hyped for every game but when you play against a guy like Paul, you definitely get more hyped, especially since he hit shots on me last game, you want to come in here and limit those."

Houston is not known for its defense - it's yielding 102.7 points per game - but the team has clamped down on that end during its season-high seven-game homestand, holding opponents to an average of 92.5 points. The Rockets are 5-1 during that stretch and are seventh in the West, 4 1/2 games ahead of the ninth seed. Houston's last playoff appearance came in 2008-09.

"We're growing,'' leading scorer James Harden said. "It took us some time, but we usually rely on our shots. If we're not making shots, we kind of give up on our defense. The last few weeks, it's been our defensive effort, holding teams down defensively and trying to get out and score our transition baskets.''

Houston, which is 24-5 when limiting opponents to 101 points or less, is among the NBA's best with 18.4 fast-break points per game.

Harden, who is averaging a league-high 10.3 free-throw attempt, took just five on Jan. 18, hitting four. He also missed 14 of 19 field-goal attempts and finished with 17 points as his career-best streak of 22 straight games scoring 20 or more ended.

The Pacers, the league leader in field-goal defense at 41.4 percent, held the Rockets to 41.0 on Jan. 18.

Indiana has won two straight in this series and three of four in Houston following a 104-102 overtime victory on April 1.