Pacers-Trail Blazers Preview
By MATT BEARDMORE
(AP) -- Coach Frank Vogel want his Central Division-leading Indiana Pacers to be a better road team, and while they can't lift their record away from home above .500 during their trip, they can come awfully close.
Close hasn't been good enough of late for the slumping Portland Trail Blazers.
Indiana goes for a seventh straight victory over a Western Conference opponent while trying to hand the Blazers a seventh consecutive defeat Wednesday night.
The Pacers (26-16) are tied with Miami with an Eastern Conference-best 16-3 home record, but they owned a 9-13 mark outside Indianapolis before beginning a four-game trip with Monday's 82-81 victory over Memphis.
"We knew we had to turn things around," said George Hill, whose free throw with 1.3 seconds left was the difference. "Coach challenged us to be above a .500 road team, and it started with (Monday)."
Indiana, a 99-92 winner over Portland (20-21) on Dec. 5, is on its longest single-season run against West opponents since a nine-game stretch Jan. 28-March 17, 2004.
The Blazers have lost three times to East teams, including league-worst Washington on Monday, during their season-worst four-game skid at the Rose Garden. Their last 0-5 stretch at home spanned March 20-April 1, 2006.
Nicolas Batum had 12 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists for his first career triple-double, but it wasn't enough to help the Blazers avoid a 98-95 loss to the Wizards.
"We shouldn't be losing, especially at home," guard Wesley Matthews told the Blazers' official website. "We don't take anything away from these teams, but we're better than that."
The Blazers need to improve in close games. They've played in a franchise-record 10 straight contests decided by six points or fewer, and they've lost by a total of 28 since their last victory, 92-90 over the Heat at home Jan. 10.
"You don't see stretches like this," coach Terry Stotts said. "The one thing that hasn't wavered is that I like the way our team competes."
However, Stotts can't like his team's shooting. The Blazers, 10-0 when hitting 47.8 percent of their attempts or better, are shooting 41.4 percent during their skid.
Ending that slide - their longest since finishing 0-7 last season - could be tough against the defensive-minded Pacers, who lead the NBA in field goal defense (41.3 percent) and scoring defense with 89.1 points per game.
Indiana has been far less impressive on the offensive end, averaging 91.2 points. The Pacers, though, shot 49.3 percent Monday against a Grizzlies team that is ranked second to Indiana in scoring defense (89.4) and holding opponents to 43.5 percent shooting.
"Forty-nine percent against that team, one of the best defensive teams in the league, is pretty impressive," Vogel said. "Obviously, too many turnovers (20) but happy to get the 'W.'"
Indiana, which has lost seven straight when yielding 90 or more points on the road, has dropped three in a row at Portland.
The Pacers are going for their first two-game season sweep of the Blazers since 2007-08.
Updated January 22, 2013