The Pacers have just 11 games and three weeks left in the regular season. The next four games are on the road. The Pacers hope to get healthy during the trip and close in on the central division title.
The Pacers played the Atlanta Hawks Monday night without three starters (David West-back, Lance Stephenson-hip, George Hill-groin), four if you count Danny Granger, who has missed most of the season. The reserves stepped up to build a 28 point third quarter lead on a playoff bound opponent. The big lead slipped away in the fourth quarter. But the Pacers hung on for a 100-to-94 victory.
"It was real important," said Paul George, a healthy starter. "That was a great team. They're a team that's going to be in the playoffs and a team that is competing for something. They want to move around in the standings as much as we want to. So it was a great quality win, despite the fourth quarter that we had. It was a great teaching point for us."
Now the Pacers head west for four games, starting Wednesday in Houston. The Pacers then play at Dallas Thursday, at Phoenix Saturday, and at Los Angeles versus the Clippers Monday.
Lance Stephenson practiced Tuesday and should return to the lineup against Houston. George Hill did not practice. His status is uncertain. David West has missed the past five games with a sore back. He will probably miss one more. Danny Granger has played in just five games this season coming off knee surgery. But he practiced Tuesday.
"We're hopeful that he gets on the court on this trip," said Pacers coach Frank Vogel. "I don't think it will be Wednesday night, but it could be. It could be Thursday. I don't know. We'll see how it goes day-to-day with how his knee is feeling."
The Pacers don't play again at Bankers Life Fieldhouse until a week from Friday. By then, the Pacers hope to be a full strength.
The Pacers won three out of four games on their first trip out west this season, back in late November. The Pacers beat the Lakers in Los Angeles on November 27, followed by a win in Sacramento three days later. The Pacers lost at Golden State, but won at Chicago before returning to Indianapolis.
"That's when we really started playing well, coming out of the first west coast trip," said George, "just because we spent a lot of time together. We were able to bond and really build some chemistry when we weren't playing so well to start the year off. That's what we're hoping for again. It will be perfect timing to close the year out and get ready for the playoffs."
"It's most important for us to come out with the right focus," said West. "Regardless of where we are, who we have on the floor, we've got to have the right focus from the jump ball to beat somebody on their home floor."
The Pacers are just 15-19 on the road this season. Seven of their final 11 games are on the road. The Pacers hold a five game edge over Chicago for the lead in the Central division, but just a half game lead on New York for the second seed in the Eastern Conference.