Pacers, Cavaliers finally meet for first time this season

Divisional rivals seeking to end three-game losing streaks duel for the first time this season Sunday when the Indiana Pacers visit the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Coming off losses to New Orleans, Washington and Atlanta, the Cavaliers hope to start 2022 with a return to the form of two months ago, when they were among the league’s biggest surprises.

Sparked by impressive rookie big man Evan Mobley, Cleveland won nine of its first 14 games, but has only treaded water since then, winning just half of the past 22 games.

Cavaliers fans are hoping to get a spark from veteran point guard Rajon Rondo, who is reportedly heading from the Los Angeles Lakers to Cleveland in a trade. However, no formal announcement had been made on the eve of the Pacers’ visit, so it’s likely Rondo wouldn’t be available until at least Tuesday against Memphis.

Their only announced moves were to sign guard Brandon Goodwin to a 10-day contract and terminated the 10-day contract of Tre Scott after one appearance.

So once again, the Cavaliers are left trying to figure out how to fill the huge void left by Ricky Rubio’s season-ending knee injury Tuesday.

«As a spirit, as a leader, as a mentor, you don’t replace that, and that’s not our aim by any means,» Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. «He meant the world to this group, the way that we played. Like that passion, that spirit, a lot of that was the ‘Ricky Rubio effect.’ You don’t replace that.»

Cleveland hasn’t won since the injury, allowing 29 and 35 points to guards Bradley Beal and Trey Young in the past two games.

One Cavaliers veteran still moving full-speed-ahead is Kevin Love, who followed a 24-point, 11-rebound effort as a starter against Washington with a 35-point, 11-rebound explosion off the bench against Atlanta.

The Pacers, meantime, will be trying to recover from having a home win snatched from their grasp on Friday night when the Chicago Bulls’ DeMar DeRozan connected on a desperation 3-pointer at the horn for a 108-106 victory.

It was Chicago’s second win over the Pacers in six days, with Indiana also suffering a 116-108 home loss to the Charlotte Hornets in between.

The three-game skid is Indiana’s sixth losing streak of the season — two two-gamers, two three-gamers and two four-game streaks.

In the rematch with the Bulls, the Pacers were down five players — including standout guard Malcolm Brogdon and Kelan Martin, who joined the group Friday — because of COVID protocol.

Caris LeVert, Indiana’s leading scorer with 27 points, walked away feeling good despite the final dagger.

«It just speaks to how hard we played all night, how resilient we were despite everything that’s going on with our team,» he boasted. «It’s obviously very disappointing to lose a game like that on a shot like that, but we gotta keep our heads up and keep fighting.»

The Pacers have won five straight over the Cavaliers, including a 3-0 sweep of last year’s season series. Domantas Sabonis had a 21-point, 20-rebound, nine-assist headline-grabber in Indiana’s most recent visit to Cleveland last May.

–Field Level Media