AUBURN HILLS – The Indiana Pacers haven’t had any problems this season with the Detroit Pistons.
Still, having Danny Granger back could be a nice boost for the Central Division leaders as they complete this home-and-home set.
Granger might make his long-awaited season debut on Saturday night when the visiting Pacers go for the season sweep over the Pistons.
Whatever concerns existed about Indiana (34-21) playing without Granger, who has been sidelined with patellar tendinosis in his left knee, have been quieted by Paul George, David West, George Hill and others as the Pacers have moved into second place in the Eastern Conference. They took over that spot on Friday with a 114-82 victory over Detroit (22-35) and with New York losing 100-98 at Toronto.
Indiana routed the Knicks 125-91 on Wednesday in its first game after the All-Star break.
“I’m very, very pleased with how our guys are approaching the post All-Star break,” said coach Frank Vogel, whose team’s 8-2 stretch started with a 98-79 victory over the visiting Pistons on Jan. 30. “They have incredible focus and energy. Our offense is really coming on.”
That’s a scary thought for opponents as the Pacers have yet to have Granger – their leading scorer in each of the last five seasons – see any action. Indiana is scoring 103.5 points per game over the last 10 contests to improve its season average to 93.8.
The Pacers lead the NBA in scoring defense (89.8) and field goal defense at 41.4 percent.
“We know were an elite level team and we have to show that every night,” said rookie forward Orlando Johnson, who hit three 3-pointers and finished with a career-best 14 points – all in the first half – on Friday to join all five Pacers’ starters in double figures.
Whether Granger returns or not, Johnson can expect to get plenty of minutes going forward. He leads all Pacers reserves with 28 points during the team’s three-game winning streak.
“(Johnson’s) not coming out of the rotation any time soon,” Vogel said.
The Pistons need to do something different after their most lopsided defeat since a 116-84 loss at Atlanta on April 18, but they know it won’t be easy.
“With Indiana, it’s all about blitzkrieg,” coach Lawrence Frank said. “They blitzkrieged New York, who bliztkrieged us. There’s no surprise about what they did.”
Detroit chances of bouncing back on Saturday could be hurt if second-year guard Brandon Knight misses a second straight game due to a hyperextended right knee.
If Knight can’t play, Rodney Stuckey – the only Pistons starter in double figures (11) on Friday – will likely be in the lineup again next to point guard Jose Calderon, who is coming off his worst performance (five points, three assists) in nine games since being acquired from Toronto on Jan. 30.
The Pistons, losers of 13 of 16 to Indiana, had won three in a row over the visiting Pacers prior to an 88-77 defeat on Dec. 15
Indiana last swept this season series in 2009-10.
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