Celtics Will Look to Topple Eastern Conference-Leading Pacers in First Visit of Season to Indianapolis

Paul George, LeBron JamesIt’s tough enough to beat the Indiana Pacers this season as they have the NBA’s best record and entered the week as the only team in the Eastern Conference without a home loss. It will be doubly tough for Boston on Sunday when the Celtics make their first visit to Indianapolis in what will be the second game of a back-to-back.

Indiana still isn’t the NBA championship or Eastern Conference favorite, but its odds have lowered significantly to 4-1 and 7-4, respectively, at Bovada. Only the Miami Heat (2-1 and 2-3) are ahead of the Pacers. That’s despite the fact that Indiana beat Miami last week 90-84. The two play again on Wednesday in Florida and there will be Live Betting available. The Pacers were blown out by Oklahoma City on December 8 but that was a night after a very impressive win at San Antonio.

Paul George is in the conversation with LeBron James for the NBA’s MVP award thus far. George, a relatively unknown first-round pick in 2010 out of Fresno State, is averaging 24.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game. The Pacers score 17 more points per 100 possessions when George is on the court. They allow 91.3 points per 100 possessions when George is playing compared to 98.8 when he’s not. He has been the best player in the league in the fourth quarter by several metrics.

George had 27 points when the Pacers won 97-82 at TD Garden on November 22. Lance Stephenson had a triple-double with 10 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. Boston led the game 50-42 at halftime thanks to 59 percent shooting, but it only hit 40 percent in the second half and were held to eight third-quarter points. Jordan Crawford led the C’s with 24 points, and Boston was a 7.5-point dog. That number will be higher Sunday.

The Celtics have a good shot at being on a winning streak when they visit Indiana. Boston will be home favorites on Wednesday against Detroit and Saturday against Washington. The Celtics lost in Detroit on Nov. 3, 87-77, the third of a season-opening four-game skid. Detroit’s Andre Drummond, a rising star, had 15 points and 12 boards to lead the Pistons. The former UConn standout is second in the NBA in field-goal percentage.

The Pistons could be active before the trade deadline with Greg Monroe set to become a restricted free agent after the season. Boston has been rumored as a potential bidder for the 6-foot-10 former Georgetown star. Monroe has made it known he expects a max contract. He’s averaging 15.0 points and 8.8 rebounds. The Pistons likely can’t afford Monroe’s demands with having to pay Drummond big bucks soon and giving huge contracts this offseason to Brandon Jennings (among the NBA turnover leaders) and Josh Smith,┬áboth who have underperformed.

The Wizards have been fairly disappointing as they were expected to make a playoff push this season if John Wall managed to stay healthy, which he has. Second-year guard Bradley Beal was off to an excellent start on the season before suffering a stress fracture in his leg. He had missed nine straight games, in which Washington was 4-5, but was set to return Monday.

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