Surging Pacers face Clippers, who are missing two stars

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The streaking Indiana Pacers begin a seven-game road tour of the Western Conference on Sunday when they visit a Los Angeles Clippers team down its two superstars.

The Clippers were without five-time All-Star Kawhi Leonard for the 15th time on the 2022-23 campaign in Los Angeles’ 114-104 loss to Denver on Friday.

Leonard — who missed last season due to a torn ACL sustained in the 2021 playoffs — returned to the lineup Nov. 17 for three straight games after missing 13 of the Clippers’ first 15 contests.

He is again sidelined after spraining his ankle Nov. 21 against the Utah Jazz. Los Angeles coach Tyronn Lue told reporters there was no immediate timetable for Leonard’s return.

The situation is the same for seven-time All-Star Paul George, who has missed the last three games due to a hamstring tendon strain. George leads the Clippers in scoring at 23.6 points per game, is second in rebounding at six per game and third in assists at 4.3 per game.

Clippers’ reserves kept Los Angeles competitive in Friday’s loss, with John Wall leading three players scoring in double figures off the bench at 23 points. Robert Covington added 12 points and six rebounds, while Norman Powell scored 11 points in reserve duty.

Lue praised the available players for stepping up but lamented the challenges of being without two standouts the caliber of Leonard and George.

“(There is) leadership in the locker room, and our coaching staff has great leaders as well,” Lue said in his postgame press conference. “But sometimes it’s just tough to win games when you build your offense (around) two keys guys and they’re out.”

Indiana comes into Sunday’s matchup rolling, winning 8 of 10 after Friday’s 128-117 defeat of Brooklyn.

Four Pacers scored at least 20 points, led by 26 from Buddy Hield. Myles Turner added 23 points and a team-high eight rebounds, Tyrese Haliburton went for 21 points with 15 assists for his eighth scoring-and-assisting double-double in Indiana’s last nine contests.

Bennedict Mathurin also continued his hot scoring off the bench with 20 points.

“We’ve got a lot of young guys who compete hard, every single night,” Turner said in Friday’s postgame press conference. “One thing that really sticks out to me as somebody who’s been (in Indiana) a long time is we don’t really skimp on the little stuff. Guys are in here getting their extra shots, guys in here are taking care of their bodies, we’re eating together on the road, hanging out. Doing that chemistry (building) is important.”

Indiana’s off-court efforts have translated through the early going. The Pacers’ 11 wins heading into Sunday are just 14 shy of the club’s win total a season ago.

The upcoming Western road swing provides a significant test to Indiana’s surprising start. The Pacers open with a Los Angeles back-to-back, taking on the Clippers and Lakers, before facing Sacramento, Utah, Portland, Golden State and Minnesota.

Of those latter five, all but one entered Saturday above .500 — and the lone exception is reigning NBA champion Golden State.

–Field Level Media

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