Bucks-Pacers Preview

The Associated Press

The Indiana Pacers got back on track against two teams well out of the playoff picture.

They'll try to keep up their winning ways against a Milwaukee Bucks team they could wind up seeing when they open the postseason.

Following a pair of blowout victories, the Central Division-leading Pacers look to avoid losing the season series to the Bucks on Friday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

After a stretch of four losses in six games, Indiana (42-26) rebounded with Monday's 21-point win at Cleveland and Tuesday's 95-73 victory over Orlando.

Gerald Green, who hadn't gotten off the bench in 17 of the Pacers' previous 26 games before Monday, totaled 35 points in 43 minutes in the two wins as Frank Vogel gave him a shot to spark the offense.

"I feel like if we continue to play the way we played (Tuesday) then we can be a tough team to beat,'' point guard George Hill said. "We know the offense will come."

The Pacers are still a work in progress on that end - shooting 41.3 percent or worse in five of their last eight contests - but they're the league's best defensively (41.5 percent) after holding the Magic to 31.8.

The Bucks (34-33) matched a season-low point total the last time these teams met, a 95-80 Indiana home win on Jan. 5 that came after losses in Milwaukee on Nov. 14 and Dec. 18.

These divisional foes could meet in the playoffs for the first time since 2000. Indiana clinched its third straight postseason berth on Wednesday with Philadelphia losing to the Los Angeles Clippers, and it's now focused on clinching the Central and the second seed.

The Bucks, meanwhile, are well in front of the ninth-place 76ers, and have their eyes set on Boston, Chicago and Atlanta. Milwaukee, though, lost ground to the Hawks with Wednesday's 98-90 defeat in Atlanta.

The Bucks trailed by 18 after three quarters before coming as close as four in the final minute.

"When you dig yourself a hole like that, you don't have to play perfectly, but almost,'' coach Jim Boylan said.

The Bucks certainly need Monta Ellis to be better after he missed 12 of 14 shots on Wednesday and finished with five points. Ellis is averaging 18.7 points against Indiana this season, second on the team to Brandon Jennings' 20.7.

If Milwaukee is without starting forward Ersan Ilyasova (hip) for a third straight game and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (sprained toe) for a seventh, it will need Larry Sanders to continue his strong work down low. The center has grabbed double-digit rebounds in a career-best six consecutive games.

Pacers center Roy Hibbert, who is averaging 11.7 points and 11.0 rebounds this season versus Milwaukee, could have Tyler Hansbrough joining him in the starting frontcourt again if David West misses a third consecutive game with a sprained lower back.

Hansbrough has totaled 32 points and 25 boards in the last two games, his second and third starts of the season.

The Pacers have won three in a row and 12 of 15 with the Bucks in town, but to continue that success they may need Paul George to be better. The All-Star has been held to 12.0 points per game on 34.9 percent shooting against the Bucks this season, turning it over 13 times.

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