Pacers-Nets Preview

The New Jersey Nets were expected to have a tough time holding on to playoff position after trading Jason Kidd. The Indiana Pacers are just one of many Eastern Conference teams looking to take advantage.

After snapping a three-game losing streak, the Pacers look to inch closer to the Nets in the East when the teams conclude a home-and-home series Saturday night.

New Jersey (24-31) lost 113-103 at Indiana (22-33) on Friday night, falling to 1-2 since trading Kidd to Dallas. A playoff spot in the East remains a strong possibility for the seventh-place Nets, but the Pacers are now two games behind New Jersey and are among six teams in the conference vying to move into playoff position.

With the Nets missing Devin Harris, the centerpiece of the Kidd trade, they’ll have an even tougher time holding off teams such as Indiana. Harris, the point guard New Jersey acquired from the Mavericks, sat on the bench Friday because of a sprained left ankle and could miss another two weeks.

“It’s not easy to implement all these guys,” Nets forward Bostjan Nachbar said. “It’s similar to training camp. It’s going to take some time.”

Harris’ absence was felt as the Nets finished with 23 turnovers and 22 assists. It was just the first time in the past 48 games New Jersey has had more turnovers than assists, and the fifth time on the season.

“I think it’s a little easier to defend them because (Kidd) brought so much to their transition game,” Pacers forward Danny Granger said. “They won’t have that anymore. I’d rather play them without him than with him any day.”

Marcus Williams, who averages just 4.1 points, is filling in at point guard until Harris returns. He had five points Friday, while backup Darrell Armstrong finished with nine.

Richard Jefferson and Vince Carter are New Jersey’s top veterans with Kidd gone, and they combined for 49 points in the first game of this series. Jefferson is averaging 29.0 points in his last two games.

Indiana swingman Mike Dunleavy, meanwhile, shot just 34.9 percent (22-for-63) from the field in five games before leading Indiana with 34 points versus New Jersey. He went 11-for-20 from the floor, including 4 of 6 from 3-point range as the Pacers snapped a three-game losing streak and beat a team by 10 points or more for the first time since a 113-91 win over Atlanta on Jan. 4.

“I knew he wouldn’t be down long,” Pacers coach Jim O’Brien said of Dunleavy, who topped the 20-point mark for the first time in nine games.

It was also the fourth time Dunleavy scored 30 points or more this season. Indiana needs Dunleavy to become more consistent with Jermaine O’Neal out with a knee injury. O’Neal, who has missed 15 straight games, remains day-to-day.

The Pacers also have been without point guard Jamaal Tinsley the past six games. Travis Diener, who has been starting for Tinsley, tied a career high with 19 points Friday and set a career high with eight rebounds. Diener is averaging 10.4 points and 5.7 assists in 10 starts this season.

“He’s done a nice job running our team,” Dunleavy said. “He makes the right plays.”

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