The Boston Celtics (12-16, 5-8 away) visit the Indiana Pacers (21-5, 12-1 home) on Sunday evening at Bankers Life Fieldhouse (6 p.m., CSN). Here's what to watch for:
HEADED HOME: Brad Stevens returns to his native Indianapolis for the first time as an NBA coach and while he's excited about seeing friends and family, many of whom will pack the arena, he joked, "If anybody has watched [the Pacers] play, you know I’m not really looking forward to the game." The guess here is that he's actually pretty enthused about going against the East-leading Pacers. He'd probably prefer his team be playing a little crisper, having let two winnable games slip away against other East playoff teams this week (Detroit, Washington). But the Pacers represent a measuring stick for where Boston needs to get to in the conference.
RIGHT ROTATION: Stevens went 11-deep during Saturday's loss to Washington, but he did tighten the rotations a bit, leaning heavy on starters (particularly a hot-shooting Avery Bradley) in the second half when the Wizards rallied. Gerald Wallace topped the bench players while playing 17:36 and only two others reached double figures in minutes in Kris Humphries (16:14) and Phil Pressey (13:46). Stevens admitted its a balance and one that might return to a more normal look Sunday. "“I’ve always thought that you go with guys that are really playing well. Maybe I should’ve stuck with a couple of those [bench] guys a little bit longer. But that’s why I did it with Avery, and that cut into Courtney [Lee]’s opportunity in the second half. So I’m sure it’ll be back more traditional ways tomorrow, but you’re always looking for the game within the game to try to figure out how to win that single one.”
PACING THE EAST: The Celtics know how tough it is to win in Indy. "It’s going to be a challenge for us," said Gerald Wallace. "We’re facing one of the best teams in the league on their home court. I think they’ve only lost, what, one game at home this year? It’s going to be a test for us to mentally stay together and execute our offense and kind of take them out of what they want to do. I think we did a great job of playing them here and it’s going to be even tougher on the road, but I think we can still gives ourselves a chance to win." The Pacers rank first in the league in defensive rating (94.2) and are solid on the glass (fourth in total rebound percentage). An inconsistent Boston offense can't get discouraged agains the best defense in the league and maximize each opportunity.
WHAT ELSE?: Detroit is the only team to beat the Pacers at home this season (Indy won its first 11 at Bankers Life this season). ... Danny Granger made his season debut against Houston on Friday (missing 6-of-7 shots while putting up five points over 22 minutes). ... The Celtics have a five-day break after Sunday's game, the first three of which they'll take off completely from basketball activities as players scatter around the country for the holidays.