The Indiana Pacers were rolling two weeks ago but have stumbled since, losing five straight while missing their top scorer Tyrese Haliburton.
Halliburton is expected to miss at least another week with a sprained left knee as the Pacers run into one of the NBA’s hottest teams in the Denver Nuggets, who are riding a 15-game home winning streak.
Denver will go for No. 16 — and its ninth win in a row overall — when it hosts Indiana on Friday night.
The Pacers had reached a season-best five games above .500 before their recent slide, which includes the first two games on a four-game road trip.
In Haliburton’s absence, T.J. McConnell has stepped up his offense. After scoring in double figures only five times in the first two-plus months of the season, McConnell has scored in double figures in each of the past five games (averaging 15.8), including a career-high 29 in Indiana’s loss at Milwaukee on Monday.
He had his career high by halftime when he scored 23 points and didn’t miss any of his nine field-goal attempts.
“We’re excited with what T.J. is doing out there,” Pacers assistant coach Mike Weinar said. “He’s taking what the defense gives him.”
Indiana will need Myles Turner to bounce back from scoring just seven points at Oklahoma City on Wednesday night for the Pacers to have a chance to end the Nuggets’ winning streak. The loss to the Thunder was Turner’s second game in the lineup after he missed three with back spasms; he scored 30 points in 36 minutes in his return on Saturday.
Denver hopes to have head coach Michael Malone back Friday night. Malone entered a health and safety protocol before Tuesday’s win against Portland. He also missed the 122-118 win over Minnesota on Wednesday night.
Assistant David Adelman served as acting head coach and kept the winning streak alive.
The Nuggets haven’t lost at home since Dec. 6 against Dallas. They have had a couple of narrow escapes, needing fourth-quarter rallies to beat Orlando on Sunday and the Timberwolves on Wednesday as they set a franchise record for best start after 45 games: 32-13.
A big reason for the record is the play of Nikola Jokic, who had back-to-back 30-point triple-doubles against the Trail Blazers and Minnesota. He now has 14 triple-doubles this season and 90 in his career, the most by a center. He also set the Nuggets’ career assist mark Wednesday night.
“It’s something that, when you have a lot of assists, I think that it just shows that you’re a good team player,” Jokic said Wednesday night. “That’s something that I really want to be and how I want everybody to remember me, as a good guy who was a really good team player.”
Jamal Murray scored 28 points against the Timberwolves, including seven in the last three minutes to help the Nuggets erase a four-point deficit.
–Field Level Media