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Pacers Look for Second Straight Win Versus Magic

After avoiding a third straight loss, the Indiana Pacers will try to notch another consecutive win tonight as the face the Orlando Magic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in downtown Indianapolis. And with just 15 games remaining in the season, crunch time has most definitely arrived.

This is a time when the Pacers can’t afford to be playing anything other than their best basketball. Fortunately, they will be home three out of four games, which should hopefully be the catalyst that gets them back to their winning ways in time for the postseason.

The Adversary

Enter the Orlando Magic, a team the Pacers lost 97-86 to in the third week of January. But The Magic have recently lost three consecutive games, and 5 of their last six. They are three games into a four-game road trip in the North.

The Magic have not really been contenders for a while. Their 18 wins and 49 losses represent the second-worst record in the NBA. To be sure, the offseason loss of Dwight Howard didn’t help. But the writing is on the wall: After 6 consecutive playoff seasons, the longest current streak in the Eastern Conference, they will fail to make the playoffs in 2013. It hasn’t helped that they’ve been without two key players in Forward Glen Davis and sharpshooter Hedo Turkoglu. Davis has suffered from a fractured left foot for going on 23 games, while Turkoglu is serving a 20-game suspension related to banned substance use.

Arron Afflalo leads the Magic in scoring with a 17 points per game average. And Tobias Harris is averaging nearly 16 points and 7 rebounds. Meanwhile, Nikola Vucevic, the 2nd-year center, is averaging 12.4 points and 11.5 rebounds.

While 49 losses might seem like a lot, and indeed it is, it should be noted that they lost 23 of these games by six points or fewer. They are dead last in the league in steals, and average just 16 free throw attempts per game.

Looking to Improve

The Pacers could use a solid performance by Danny Granger. Unfortunately, he is still out with a tender knee. And David West’s status is in doubt as well since sitting out Monday’s game versus Cleveland with a lower back sprain. Fortunately, his absence was hardly felt in the Cleveland game, and it is conceivable the Pacers could do just fine without him if he’s not ready to go tonight.

The lost on Saturday versus Philadelphia was tough, especially considering it was their second straight loss. But a Monday night, 111-90beat-down of Cleveland surely helped them regain at least some of their swagger. Roy Hibbert scored 12 points, 9 rebounds and 5 blocks. But this game will be at home where

Fortunately, Indiana is 26-8 at home and a win over The Magic will put them second in the East and one game ahead of New York. But as strong as they’ve been this season in general, they haven’t fared nearly as well versus Orlando. At home in Bankers Life Fieldhouse, they’ve lost five straight games versus Orlando.

Tonight’s Game

But the team they will face tonight will be without four of its five top players from last season. The Magic has totaled 36 losses since Dec. 20, 2012. They recently squandered a fourth quarter 13-point lead in Milwaukee, losing 115-109 in that matchup. And even though they had 3 players each scoring 20 or more points for the second game in a row, they still lost 117-104 last Friday in Oklahoma City. Even the 24 points scored by Arron Afflalo wasn’t enough as they allowed the Bucks 45 fourth-quarter points. They also had difficulty with Paul George back on March 8, allowing him to put up 25 points in a 115-86 road victory. In that game, the Pacers shot nearly 52 percent, and matched its second-highest scoring total of the season. In his last three games versus Orlando, George has averaged 22.3 points per game.