Venue: Bankers Life Fieldhouse
Darren Collison should be back in the Indiana Pacers' lineup after a two-game absence, but Frank Vogel may want to make sure George Hill gets plenty of minutes against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Hill has shined in a pair of starts with Collison out, something the Cavaliers are well aware of heading into Friday's conclusion of a home-and-home set at Bankers Life Fieldhouse after Hill's performance in an overtime win.
The Pacers felt good enough about Hill - who emerged as an impressive backup to Tony Parker in San Antonio the last two seasons - to deal their top two picks the night of the 2011 draft for him to provide a change of pace behind Collison.
He did a solid job of that through his first 41 games - Hill missed 12 due to a chip fracture in his ankle - but has stepped up when it's been Collison ailing with a groin injury. Hill had a team high-tying 18 points and didn't commit a turnover in a 103-98 win over Toronto on Monday, then scored 11 of his 17 in the final 4:18 of regulation and OT in Wednesday's 104-98 victory at Cleveland.
Though Hill missed three free throws in the final 30 seconds after bringing Indiana (36-22) back from a late six-point deficit, he hit a game-sealing 3-pointer in the extra period.
"George Hill made some huge plays," Vogel said after his team improved to 15-4 when Hill scores in double figures. "He's down on himself right now for missing those three free throws, but I told him he was the reason why we got the lead back. He was able to turn the corner and make some plays for us."
The Pacers, winners of six of seven, have a two-game lead on a three-team cluster for the Eastern Conference's No. 3 seed and will face sub-.500 teams in their next three contests.
They've had anything but an easy time against Cleveland (19-37), however. Indiana pulled out a 98-91 win in overtime at home Dec. 30 after Kyrie Irving missed a layup at the regulation buzzer, then fell 98-87 at Quicken Loans Arena on Feb. 15 without Hill and Danny Granger.
Granger has routinely had his way with the Cavaliers, averaging 27.4 points while participating in seven straight wins in the series. Though he's been held scoreless in both fourth quarters against Cleveland this season, he's totaled 14 points in overtime.
It's likely Collison will start if he's healthy enough to return, but Vogel shouldn't feel bad if he has to go with Hill again. Indiana's usual backup has averaged 19.0 points, 5.0 boards and 5.0 assists while shooting 49.2 percent in four career starts versus Cleveland.
The Cavaliers have found their own instant offense at the point while Irving remains out with a sprained shoulder. D-League castoff and NBA journeyman Lester Hudson has averaged 23.3 points in Cleveland's last four games, a remarkable 12.5 of which have come in the fourth quarter.
Hudson had 10 in the final 12 minutes Wednesday, including a floater over David West with 1.2 seconds left to send the game to overtime.
"The one thing you know about him in a short period of time is (that) he's been through the ringer as far as being in this league and being out of this league and being back in this league," Cavaliers coach Byron Scott said. "So I think he's trying to make sure that he gets an opportunity where he can stay here for a while."
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