Pacers-Celtics Preview

ALAN FERGUSON (STATS Writer)
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The Indiana Pacers swept last season's series with the Boston Celtics but are heading into the first matchup of 2014-15 with a severely depleted team. The Pacers try to avoid their first five-game losing streak in three seasons when they visit a Boston club that's dropped three in a row Friday night. Indiana was forced to use a hardship waiver to bring back guard A.J. Price on Thursday because of a bevy of injured players. Starters Paul George (leg), David West (ankle) and George Hill (knee) are out, as well as backup guards Rodney Stuckey (foot) and C.J. Watson (foot). The Pacers (1-4) had nine players available Wednesday in Washington and nearly ended their skid before falling 96-94 in overtime. Donald Sloan, the team's only healthy point guard until Price's signing, scored 31 points - 15 more than his previous career high - but Indiana failed to shoot better than 40.0 percent for the third time during the slide. Roy Hibbert went 0 for 7 and scored two points, and C.J. Miles missed 11 of 13 shots while finishing with six. "I can't wait until everybody gets healthy," said Hibbert, who was forced to attempt his first 3-pointer of the season after the Wizards disrupted Indiana's final play. With a much deeper squad, Indiana won four meetings with Boston last season by an average of 14.5 points. The Pacers' healthiest returning scorer from last season's series is Luis Scola (11.3). Evan Turner, who averaged 12.0 points in two matchups, is now with Boston. That would appear to make it difficult for Indiana to avoid its first five-game losing streak since Feb. 8-15, 2012. The Pacers are off to their worst start since dropping five of their first six in 1996-97, but they'll face a Celtics squad that's had another slow beginning to a season. Boston (1-3) is allowing easily the most points per game in the Eastern Conference at 109.3 - 7.8 more than any other team - and that's been enough to keep its skid going despite strong efforts at the other end of the floor. The Celtics, scoring an average of 107.8 points, couldn't slow down short-handed Toronto when they needed to in a 110-107 loss Wednesday. Boston, which led by 12 after the first quarter, allowed the visiting Raptors to break a 105-all tie with a three-point play with 33 seconds left and ice the game with a jumper with eight to go. Jeff Green led six Celtics in double figures with 20 points and Rajon Rondo recorded his first triple-double of the season, including 15 assists for the second straight game. Like Indiana, the Celtics have lost their past two by a combined eight points. "Sometimes guys can get down on themselves, especially with the way we've lost in the past couple of games," Green said. "We're staying positive and trying to get better and prepared for the next game." The status of Avery Bradley, second on Boston with 17.3 points per game, is unknown because of a strained muscle in his left elbow.