The Indiana Pacers’ dismal play on the road has put their quest for a 10th straight postseason appearance in serious jeopardy.
They’ll try to get back on track and sweep their season series with the Milwaukee Bucks when the Central Division rivals meet Wednesday night at the Bradley Center.
Indiana (34-43) is ninth in the Eastern Conference, two games behind the Orlando Magic for the eighth and final spot, with five games left. This is the middle contest of a three-game road trip for the Pacers, who have dropped 12 of their last 13 games away from home, averaging just 85.2 points and shooting 39.7 percent from the field in that span.
In the opener of the trip on Tuesday at Philadelphia, Indiana shot just 32.7 percent (32-for-98) from the field, including 3-of-20 from 3-point range, en route to a 90-86 defeat.
“We didn’t really meet the challenge that we needed to meet, especially since we’re in the playoff push,” Pacers leading scorer Jermaine O’Neal said. “There’s not a word that really describes the feeling of it, especially when we struggled the way we struggled tonight.”
O’Neal managed 21 points along with 10 rebounds while playing with a sore left knee and ankle, and Jeff Foster added 15 points off the bench for the Pacers, who had won three of their previous four overall.
O’Neal is averaging 25.0 points in three meetings with the Bucks (26-51) this season and 19.0 points in 26 career matchups - his second-best scoring average versus any opponent.
The Pacers have won all three previous matchups with Milwaukee this season, putting them one win away from sweeping the season series for the first time since 1998-99.
They have won seven of the last nine overall matchups between the teams, including a 136-129 double overtime victory in their most recent meeting on Feb. 21 at Conseco Fieldhouse.
Milwaukee won a season-best seven straight at the Bradley Center from Dec. 6-30, but since then has gone a dismal 8-17 at home. The Bucks have also dropped three straight games overall and 10 of their last 11.
They lost 117-94 to the Orlando Magic on Monday, the same day they learned leading scorer Michael Redd would miss the rest of the regular season after re-aggravating his left knee in a loss to New York on Saturday.
Andrew Bogut (left foot sprain) and Charlie Villanueva (right shoulder tendinitis) also remain sidelined, while Brian Skinner is day-to-day with an ear infection. The depleted lineup had trouble scoring against the Magic, as Ersan Ilyasova led the team with 18 points off the bench.
“It’s a weird time mentally, because you’re so wired to compete and win,” Bucks coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “And certainly, losing is not acceptable at this point. But our roster is so decimated right now that you have to stay somewhat realistic.”
Milwaukee has dropped a franchise-record 13 straight games against division opponents.
The Pacers may be without point guard Jamaal Tinsley, who has missed three games with a sore elbow.