March 25, 2011
KINGS (18-52) vs.
Coverage begins at 4 P.M. on Comcast SportsNet California
INDIANA (AP) -- Tyler Hansbrough's return to the starting lineup has helped the Indiana Pacers build a sizable lead for the Eastern Conference's final playoff berth.
RELATED: NBA conference standings
It's Danny Granger, though, who has excelled in recent matchups with the Sacramento Kings.
The Pacers will try to take another step toward ending their playoff drought Friday night by topping the visiting Kings, who could get leading scorer Tyreke Evans back from injury.
Hansbrough's late season surge began during the Pacers' six-game slide earlier this month. To shake his team out of that slump, interim coach Frank Vogel inserted the second-year forward into the starting five March 9.
That move paid dividends four days later as Hansbrough scored a team-high 29 points in a 106-93 win at New York. He followed with a career-best 30 in the finale of a home-and-home series, and he's averaged 21.0 points and 7.6 rebounds over the past 10 games.
REWIND: Granger, Hansbrough lead Pacers past Knicks
"He's given us a huge lift," Vogel said. "He's one of the big reasons why since I took over that I believe that this team can make a serious run. ... I've got a great deal of confidence in that young man, and he's shown that he can really play."
With Hansbrough's help, the Pacers (32-40) have won five of seven, and he scored 24 points in a pivotal 111-88 rout of Charlotte on Wednesday.
Granger led the way with 33 points as Indiana extended its lead on eighth place in the East to three games over the Bobcats and Milwaukee. Indiana also got some help from Sacramento, which prevailed 97-90 over the Bucks on Wednesday.
REWIND: Kings triumph over Delfino, Bucks
"We want to go into the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the NBA," Vogel said. "We're excited about the last 10 games. These guys are hungry. They're motivated.
"We know how close we are. We all want it very badly."
With Granger's help, the Pacers could move closer to their goal. Indiana's leading scorer has averaged 34.5 points in his last four games against the Kings (18-52), and he had a season-high 37 in a 107-98 win in Sacramento on Nov. 30 despite suffering from the flu.
Evans missed 10 of 14 shots in that game while finishing with 16 points. He has been sidelined since Feb. 13 due to plantar fasciitis, but the 2010 rookie of the year might see action Friday.
"It will be great to have him back," guard Beno Udrih said. "It will be interesting to see how (Coach Paul Westphal) is going to divide up the minutes."
RELATED: Kings stats
Udrih scored 25 points and Marcus Thornton had a team-best 27 in Wednesday's victory, which came two days after a 40-point drubbing at Chicago.
Since coming over in a trade with New Orleans on Feb. 23, Thornton has averaged 21.8 points in 15 games with the Kings. He averaged 7.8 in 46 contests with the Hornets.
"Mixing Tyreke in there gives us a very strong backcourt rotation," Westphal said. "The way Beno and Marcus are playing, it shows we have a chance to have a really, really good backcourt."
Indiana is seeking its third consecutive win at Conseco Fieldhouse against Sacramento and fifth in six overall matchups.