Still Climbing

A victorious run over the past two weeks has helped the Indiana Pacers climb the Eastern Conference standings.

The surging Pacers hope to continue their late playoff charge Monday when they conclude their season series with the league-worst Miami Heat.

Oddsmakers from Sportsbook.com have made Indiana –16.5 point spread favorites (NBA Odds) for today’s game, the over/under has been set at 198 total points (Matchup). Our public betting information shows that 52% of bets for this game have been placed on Indiana –16.5 (View NBA Bet Percentages).

Indiana (30-43) is seeking to return to the playoffs for the 10th time in 11 seasons after missing them in 2006-07, but saw their chances dim after going 6-11 from Feb. 6-March 15.

The Pacers, though, have since won five of seven games, including a 123-115 home victory over New Jersey on Friday.

Danny Granger scored 26 points while Troy Murphy added 21 and 17 rebounds for Indiana, which moved within three games of Atlanta for the eighth playoff spot in the East.

The Pacers have nine games remaining, including six against teams that are currently below .500.

"We must continue to play at this level and not let up," said Murphy, who is averaging 18.2 points and 11.8 boards in his last six games. "On the next two or three days, we need to relax, keep our game faces on and get ready for the rest of the season. We will take them game by game."

Although the Pacers have allowed 113.4 points per game over the past five contests, they held New Jersey to 8-for-24 shooting in the fourth quarter.

"We defended at a really high level in the second half," Pacers coach Jim O'Brien said. "I thought our defense won this game for us."

The defense could get a boost Monday if Jermaine O'Neal returns to the lineup. The forward, averaging 15.3 points and 7.3 rebounds this season, has missed 34 games with a bone bruise on his left knee.

"I'll play Monday," O'Neal told the Pacers' official Web site. "As far as being able to really score the way that I want to score in the low box it's probably going to take me a game or so, but I think that I'm going to fit right in defensively."

Despite their poor overall record, the Heat (13-60) have played competitively in the season series, with all three games decided by three points or fewer. The Pacers won the first two before suffering a 98-96 loss at Miami on Jan. 26 - a victory ended the Heat's franchise-record 15-game losing streak.

Indiana, which has won six of its last seven at Conseco Fieldhouse, has won 14 straight - including three postseason matchups - over Miami at home since an 89-87 loss on Dec. 31, 2001.

Miami has dropped six of seven overall, and is winless entering the finale of a four-game road trip. The Heat fell 88-62 at league-leading Boston on Sunday, making only 17 field goals - the fewest in the NBA's shot clock era.

"We tried to do a lot of stuff," said Miami assistant Ron Rothstein, who ran the bench while head coach Pat Riley missed his fourth game to resume his college scouting tour. "There's just not a lot of stuff we can run with the new guys, and they just took out everything we tried to run. It's tough."

By: Marc Young - theSpread.com - Email Us

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