|Streaking Pacers seek 6th straight win, host Hornets|
The Indiana Pacers, having rediscovered their groove after Victor Oladipo's season-ending injury, will look for their sixth consecutive victory when they host the Charlotte Hornets on Monday night.
The Pacers steadied the ship after losing their first four games without Oladipo, who suffered a ruptured quad tendon in his right knee on Jan. 23. Indiana's latest victory came Saturday night, 105-90 over the woeful Cleveland Cavaliers.
Indiana's five-game winning streak hasn't come against a Murderers' Row of competition. Three victories came against teams with losing records, while the best win was against the Los Angeles Clippers. But the Pacers are doing what they have to do and are hanging on to the third spot in the Eastern Conference, ahead of Philadelphia and Boston.
"Wins are hard to come by in this league, there's going to be ups and down. To this point, we had to go through that (four-game losing streak)," said center Myles Turner.
"I think that stretch was good for us because it kind of brought us down to earth a little bit and at the same time, I think it made us a little bit tougher."
The Hornets (27-28) have been hovering around .500 for the entire season, although the last time they had a winning record was when they moved to 16-15 on Dec. 21. They have split their past 10 games since losing at Indiana, 120-95, on Jan. 20.
That's been enough to keep them above water in the playoff chase in the East, buoyed by the All-Star season of guard Kemba Walker. He poured in 37 points in Saturday's 129-120 win in Atlanta, hitting 9 of 17 3-point shots en route to topping 30 points for the fourth consecutive game and 17th time this season.
"I'm just making the plays necessary," Walker said. "My shot has been falling. My teammates are doing a great job of getting me open. They're finding me as well when they're penetrating. I'm just being aggressive, but for the most part, my teammates are helping me score."
Some of that help has come from center Cody Zeller, who returned recently from a broken right hand that forced him to miss 16 games. He was back in the starting lineup Saturday and has averaged 8.3 points and 10.7 rebounds in three games since his return.
Charlotte veteran point guard Tony Parker, who has missed the past two games due to a back strain, was listed as doubtful on Sunday by the team.
Not counting Oladipo, Indiana still has six players averaging in double figures, led by forward Bojan Bogdanovic at 16.8 per game. He led the team with 23 points on Saturday night, when forward Domantas Sabonis (13 points, 10 rebounds) and guard Cory Joseph (10 points, 10 assists, nine rebounds) had strong performances off the bench.
In its five-game winning streak, Indiana has allowed more than 94 points just once. The Pacers lead the NBA in scoring defense, allowing 103.1 points per game.
"Togetherness. We've just been buckling down on the defensive end, covering for each other, playing the right way, we're looking for the right reads," guard Darren Collison said after the victory over Cleveland. "Everybody just seems like on one stream. When we're tied in like that we're hard to beat."
--Field Level Media