Bucks-Pacers Preview

The Associated Press

No one is playing better with the playoffs approaching than the Indiana Pacers, who are on the verge of locking up homecourt advantage in the first round.

The Milwaukee Bucks' hopes of sneaking into the postseason, meanwhile, are looking worse by the day.

The Pacers try to win their seventh straight game on Thursday night when they host the Bucks, who have lost four of five to fall 2 1/2 games out of the Eastern Conference's eighth spot.

Indiana (40-22) has won 10 of its 11 games this month to put itself comfortably in third place in the East, but none of its six straight came against a team currently in playoff position until Tuesday. The Pacers shot just 41.6 percent from the field, but hit 13 of 24 from 3-point range to earn a 102-97 victory in Philadelphia.

"The talent we have on this team is really high,'' said Danny Granger, who hit 6 of 8 3s to finish with a game-high 24 points. "We just execute. We just play the game the right away.''

The win over the eighth-place 76ers was a big favor to Milwaukee (29-32), which came into Wednesday's action trailing Philadelphia by one game in the loss column for the final playoff spot. But while the reeling Sixers bounced back by winning 103-87 in Cleveland, the Bucks let Washington shoot 55.7 percent in a 121-112 road loss.

"Wrong time to have a bad game,'' Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles said. "It's an absolute must-win for us. We have to find a way to get that game."

The Bucks now have little margin for error in their final five games, but could catch a break after facing the Pacers. Their next three are at home - games against woeful New Jersey and Toronto and a potential showdown with Philadelphia - before a finale in Boston against a Celtics team that likely won't have anything to play for.

Boston clinched the Atlantic on Wednesday to guarantee itself a top-four seed, but Indiana can wrap up the No. 3 seed and homecourt with one more win combined with one Atlanta loss.

Granger is certainly doing his part to lead the way. He's averaged 22.5 points this month, shooting 49.2 percent from the field, 50.8 percent from beyond the arc and 94.9 percent from the free-throw line.

He's 11 for 15 from 3-point range in the last two games.

"You get in one of those modes where you feel like all of them are going in,'' said Granger, who's averaged 20.8 points in Indiana's four consecutive wins versus Milwaukee.

Granger has averaged 24.6 points in his last seven home games against the Bucks.

If Milwaukee plans on stopping its slide against the Pacers, it'll need to do a better job defending Roy Hibbert. The All-Star big man has averaged 16.8 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in Indiana's four straight wins in the series, including 23 and 14 in Saturday's 105-99 victory at the Bradley Center.

Monta Ellis has only been with Milwaukee for two of those losses to the Pacers, but Indiana seems to have a good handle on defending him. Ellis has been held to an average of 16.6 points during a personal five-game losing streak to the Pacers since scoring a combined 81 in two victories.

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