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Timberwolves-Pacers Preview

AP - Sports

The Indiana Pacers are inching closer to securing home-court advantage for the opening round of the playoffs. A visit from the Minnesota Timberwolves could help them take another step toward to that goal.

Indiana will try to earn a fifth straight win and send the short-handed Timberwolves to a 10th consecutive loss Monday night.

The Pacers (38-22) have taken a firm grip on the No. 3 spot in the Eastern Conference by winning eight of nine. If they remain in the top four, they'll open the playoffs at home for the first time since 2004.

Indiana defeated Milwaukee 105-99 on Saturday despite not making a basket in the final 4:19. Roy Hibbert scored the team's final six points from the free-throw line and finished with 23 to lead seven Pacers in double figures.

"We did a great job of finishing our plays," guard Leandro Barbosa said. "We've been doing that for a couple of games, and that's going to be important for the playoffs."

The current four-game winning streak has been particularly impressive because starting point guard Darren Collision hasn't played due to a sore groin. He did warm up before Saturday's game, though his status for Monday remains uncertain.

The Timberwolves (25-36) have plenty of injury problems of their own and are on their longest skid since losing a franchise-worst 18 straight March 13-Dec. 30, 2011. They've played the last two without leading scorer and rebounder Kevin Love, who has no timetable to return from a concussion.

Luke Ridnour is dealing with a sprained right ankle, and Ricky Rubio is out for the season following knee surgery.

"We need some other players to step up," center Nikola Pekovic said.

In Love's absence, three Minnesota players topped 20 points against visiting Oklahoma City on Saturday, and the Timberwolves gave the Western Conference leaders a scare before losing 115-110.

J.J. Barea had 24 points, including a 3-pointer with 15.6 seconds left which got Minnesota within one, and reached double figures in assists for a third straight game with 10. Michael Beasley scored 26 points and Anthony Randolph added 22 with 11 rebounds.

"We're just out there trying to be scrappy," Beasley said. "Kevin might not be here for the rest of the season. That's 26 points, sometimes 40 points and 20 boards. Everybody has to step up and we're trying to finish this season with a bang."

Even with Love's 21 points and 17 rebounds in the first meeting of the season between these teams, Minnesota lost 109-99 at home Feb. 1. Indiana's Danny Granger scored a season-high 36 and Collison added 20.

Granger is scoring 22.8 per game in April, easily his best average of any month this season. He's averaged 26.3 points over his last three home games against Minnesota.

Minnesota is seeking just its fifth win in 22 visits to Indiana.

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