Pacers-Bucks Preview

The Associated Press

With time running out, the Milwaukee Bucks adopted a playoff mentality as they try to climb into the top eight in the Eastern Conference.

The Indiana Pacers also are playing with a sense of urgency, albeit while facing a lot less pressure.

The Bucks host the Pacers on Saturday night in the second meeting between the division rivals this season.

A costly loss to New York on Wednesday left Milwaukee in catch-up mode. The Bucks are two games behind the Knicks and Philadelphia, the clubs in the final two playoff spots in the East with seven games remaining.

Milwaukee (29-30) kept pace with the Knicks and gained a game on the 76ers on Friday, defeating Detroit 113-97.

The Bucks pulled away with a big third quarter, pushing the lead to 20 points. Drew Gooden scored 26 points, while Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis combined for 38 and 17 assists.

"We talked about that this morning, that no matter who it is, it's a playoff game for us," Gooden said. "We can't just worry about the New York Knicks or Philadelphia 76ers."

Gooden, who has been bothered by back spasms, had played limited minutes recently, including five Wednesday against New York. However, he logged 35 on Friday, shooting 12 of 18 and adding eight assists.

The Bucks also had a better defensive effort after giving up an average of 110.0 points in losses earlier this week to the Knicks and Oklahoma City - the first time opponents reached the century mark in back-to-back games in a month.

Milwaukee, however, faces a tougher challenge against Indiana (37-22) - the conference's third-place team.

The Pacers have won three straight and seven of eight. They completed a home-and-home sweep of Cleveland with a 102-83 victory Friday, holding the Cavaliers to 35.4 percent shooting.

Six Indiana players scored in double figures. Danny Granger had 18 points while Roy Hibbert added 12 and 10 rebounds.

The Pacers, who overcame an early 14-point deficit, officially clinched a playoff berth. They are two games ahead of Atlanta for home-court advantage in the first round.

"We haven't accomplished anything yet," coach Frank Vogel said. "Nothing has changed for us. We felt for a while we would be in the playoffs, but until we get home-court advantage, there is work to be done."

Indiana has been winning despite the absence of starting point guard Darren Collison, who sat out a third straight game Friday with a sore groin. George Hill started in his place again and had 15 points, including 10 in the second quarter, and seven assists.

With Hill running the point, Indiana has been able to continue a recent uptick in scoring. The Pacers are putting up 101.3 points per game over their last nine contests after beginning that stretch averaging 96.1 points.

The Bucks know that while Indiana may not be one of the more dangerous offensive teams, it has the ability to break out. The Pacers won 125-104 in Milwaukee on March 24, with Hill scoring 24 points off the bench.

Both teams struggled defensively in that game. Indiana shot 51.2 percent overall and scored 68 points in the second half while Milwaukee went 10 of 21 from 3-point range.

The Bucks have dropped three in a row to the Pacers. They'll meet again Thursday in Indianapolis.

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