Two of the hottest teams in the Eastern Conference go head-to-head Wednesday night when the Indiana Pacers visit the Boston Celtics.
The clubs will be meeting for the second time this season, with the Pacers getting a late 3-pointer from Victor Oladipo for a 102-101 home win in November.
It’s been more than two months since that meeting, and the Pacers (27-13) will see a different look from the Celtics (24-15) in the rematch.
Marcus Smart was an offensive liability for the Celtics in the first meeting, shooting 1 of 7 from the field, including 1 of 4 on 3-pointers.
Smart, who has struggled offensively for most of his NBA career, has caught fire of late.
In helping the Celtics blow out Dallas and Brooklyn to go 3-0 on a four-game homestand that ends Wednesday, Smart shocked the opposition with a total of 29 points, hitting 10 of 21 shots, including 9 of 16 attempts from beyond the arc.
Smart credited teammate Kyrie Irving for sparking the turnaround by including him in friendly 3-point shooting competitions at practice.
“That was one of the things that I really loved while I was in Cleveland, with Mike Miller and James Jones,” Irving told reporters Tuesday. “Shooting with those guys every day, I was getting my (butt) kicked. Those guys are professional shooters, shooting every day. Their shots are the same every time.
“The best way to get that is just to stay consistent, practice and go against one another and make it competitive. We’re all joking around and having fun, but it’s always good to shoot extra and feel good about it. (Smart) won a 3-point contest (Sunday) and he’s feeling good and shooting it and feeling comfortable.
“When he’s open, we want him shooting shots. When he’s in rhythm, shoot shots. It’s simple. It is a credit to his hard work as well.”
Irving, meanwhile, said he has improved defensively because — you guessed it — of Smart.
“It’s well documented that I watch Marcus Smart highlights,” Irving said.
“I literally just sit at home and watch him slide his feet and be able to beat guys to spots and take charges. To be able to do that at 6-foot-4 with a great build like that, I’m like, ‘Hey, I can do that, too.’ I just try to beat guys to the spot as much as possible and just be in the right spots.”
The Pacers did most things right in a 123-115 win at Cleveland on Tuesday night in the opener of a back-to-back sequence.
Indiana won for the seventh time in its last eight games mainly on the strength of 53.8 percent shooting, with Thaddeus Young and Bojan Bogdanovic combining for 49 points on 20-for-30 shooting.
The Pacers, who have won seven of their past eight games, held the Cavaliers to 43 points in the first half en route to a 20-point lead, before coasting home.
The focus of Monday’s practice was on 3-point defense after the Pacers had allowed Toronto to make 17 of 33 from beyond the arc on Sunday.
“Hopefully we’ll see some changes,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan said to reporters in their pregame chat in Cleveland. “We’ve got to get up and get into the ball.”
The Cavaliers made 13 of 29 3-pointers (44.8 percent) in the loss.
–Field Level Media