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  • The Trail Blazers enter tonight’s game on a season-high six-game losing streak. Not a good thing in the eyes of Indiana coach Frank Vogel.
    “Hate playing teams on losing streaks,” he said. “I know what it’s like when we’re on a losing streak. Everybody’s a little bit edgy. Everybody’s focus is sharper. Teams on losing streaks are harder to play against than teams that aren’t. Losing is probably the best motivator there is in this game.” Portland coach Terry Stotts said he knows what Vogel is talking about.
    “We went into Washington and (the Wizards) were 0-12 and they beat us,” Stotts said. “Teams are going to break out of a losing streak at some point. There is a sense of desperation.
    “At the same time, if you play a team that’s won 10 in a row, they’re playing pretty confidently. As a coach, you always find a way to try to motivate your team. That’s what Frank’s doing here.”
  • The Pacers enter the game ranked No. 1 in the NBA in scoring defense (89.1 points) and opponents’ field-goal percentage (.413). “You look at all the major statistical categories — fast-break points, second-chance, points in the paint, shots at the rim — they’re up there,” Stotts said. They slow down the pace, which makes it even more effective. “We can’t affect how they bring it up, but we want to force our tempo. They don’t give up a lot of transition baskets. they’re not going to come easy, but we have to make the effort to get some.”
  • Conversely, Indiana ranks 29th in the league in scoring offense (91.2) and is 28th in field-goal percentage (.423). The Pacers are 16-5 over the past five weeks, though, and seven of the wins have come in games in which they’ve scored fewer than 90 points. “Defensively, we’ve embraced the identity of trying to dominate on that end of the ball,” Vogel said. “We’ve shown flashes of NBA championship defense. It’s not there every night or every quarter, but we’ve gone through stretches where it’s been that way.”
  • All-star forward Danny Granger, who underwent surgery to his left knee in November, is on the current four-game road trip with the Pacers. “He’s back in practice, doing all the shooting drills but not the contact stuff yet,” said Vogel, who envisions Granger returning sometime next month.
  • Vogel calls Portland point guard Damian Lillard “my rookie of the year and everybody else’s, too.” “I joked a little bit (at shootaround) and put on the board, ‘We have to contain Kyrie Lillard,’ “ Vogel said. “We have that level of respect for him. He can really play.”

Kerry Eggers

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