The Indiana Pacers will have the advantage of being both well rested and riding the momentum of a brilliant start to the season when they resurface Saturday night in Cleveland to duel a potentially tired Cavaliers squad.
Getting double-doubles from Tyrese Haliburton and Andrew Nembhard plus double-figure scoring from six other players, the Pacers dazzled their home crowd with a 143-120 romp over the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night.
Indiana hasn’t played since.
On a night when the Pacers displayed their improved depth, they immediately benefitted from the offseason addition of Bruce Brown, a member of the championship-winning Denver Nuggets last season.
Mostly a backup in Denver, Brown started in his Pacers debut and put on a big-time show, bombing in six 3-pointers in eight attempts to account for a majority of his 24 points.
Brown admitted he was inspired by having watched his former teammates get their championship rings in a nationally televised pregame ceremony the night before when the Nuggets hosted the Los Angeles Lakers. He is scheduled to get his ring when the Pacers visit Denver on Jan. 14.
“Those are my guys for life,” he said of the Nuggets. “I love those guys. We had great chemistry. I’m happy for them. I was cheering for them to get the win against the Lakers. I can’t wait to see them in January and get mine.”
For now, he will have to settle for a trip to Cleveland, where the Pacers will attempt to start 2-0 for the first time since 2020-21, when they followed up a home win over the New York Knicks with a road triumph against the Chicago Bulls.
Indiana opened 0-2 the past two seasons.
The Cavaliers appeared to be headed for a second straight win to start the season when, during their home debut, they led the Oklahoma City Thunder 100-90 with 2:37 to play on Friday night.
However, the Thunder stunningly rallied for a 108-105 win, with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander securing the win when he stole the ball from Donovan Mitchell before the Cleveland guard could get off a potential buzzer-beating, game-tying 3-pointer.
Mitchell, whose 3-pointer with 12.1 seconds remaining allowed the Cavaliers to open with a 114-113 road win over the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday night, followed up that 27-point performance with a 43-point explosion against the Thunder.
On the front end of a back-to-back, Mitchell played 42 of the 48 minutes for a Cavaliers team that is opening the season a bit short-handed with both high-scoring guard Darius Garland (strained left hamstring) and star big man Jarrett Allen (bruised left ankle) out of action.
Neither is expected back for the Indiana game, although Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff provided some encouraging news amid Friday’s debacle with a positive update on Allen.
“He’s back on the floor. He’s running,” Bickerstaff said. “Then it’s just a matter of once he’s comfortable, once his conditioning is where he feels confident and then where the medical staff is with him and their comfort level, let him get out there.”