Injuries have been a problem all season for the Boston Celtics, but the absence of Rajon Rondo has been particularly felt over the last two games.
The Eastern Conference-leading Celtics look to bounce back from their first loss in more than a month when they visit the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday night.
Boston (23-5) had its 14-game winning streak snapped in an 86-78 loss at Orlando on Saturday. The loss was the team's first since a 102-101 defeat at Toronto on Nov. 21 and was its lowest-scoring game of the season.
It's the absence of Rondo, the NBA's assists leader, that has hurt the most recently. Boston has struggled to move the ball the last two games without its floor leader. The Celtics had a season-low 15 assists against the Magic after escaping with an 84-80 win over Philadelphia last Wednesday in which they had 19 assists. Rondo isn't expected to play Tuesday.
"I don't know if it did today, but it will, let's be honest," coach Doc Rivers told NBA.com regarding whether injuries played a factor in the loss to the Magic. "But listen, nobody is going to cry for us."
The Celtics have lost back-to-back games only once this season, but they've won three in a row and nine of 11 against the Pacers (13-15), including a 99-88 victory Dec. 19 in which they were also without Rondo.
That was the first time in seven games against Indiana that Boston failed to reach 100 points. Six players scored in double figures, including Paul Pierce, who had a triple-double with 18 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds.
This was the third straight year Boston has played on Christmas Day. The previous two seasons the Celtics struggled immediately after. They defeated the Magic last Christmas, but then lost three straight and eight of 12.
However, Indiana doesn't appear to pose much of a problem. The Pacers have lost five of seven while failing to score 95 points in the last three games. They fell 104-90 to Memphis on Sunday, shooting 35.6 percent.
Danny Granger scored 29 points, but was 8 of 20 from the field, while Roy Hibbert went 5 of 17 for 14 points. Granger is shooting 33.9 percent the last three games while Hibbert is making only 28 percent of his shots over the same stretch.
"They're going through a tough time right now," coach Jim O'Brien said. "Danny is struggling of late and they're both big weapons. I don't see anything when I'm watching video or practice that indicates they should be struggling. ... The ball's just not dropping."
Their struggles have contributed to a rough stretch for the Pacers, who have averaged 90 points and shot 39.8 percent over the last seven games.
Facing the Celtics isn't likely to end Granger and Hibbert's woes. The two combined for 36 points in last week's meeting, but shot 30.2 percent. Granger has connected on 36.3 percent in his last eight games against Boston.