Hibbert-less Pacers face stiff challenge with Clippers

The hard-charging Indiana Pacers will be down a man when they host the Los Angeles Clippers Thursday in a showdown between playoff- bound teams at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Pacers center Roy Hibbert will serve a one-game suspension for his involvement in a melee with the Golden State Warriors Tuesday night. Hibbert got into a shoving match with Warriors All-Star center David Lee late in the fourth quarter and several other players stepped in.

Hibbert's teammate, guard Lance Stephenson, was issued a $35,000 fine from the league for his role during the fracas, which spilled into the front row of the Fieldhouse. Hibbert is expected to pay Stephenson's fine, a gesture Pacers GM Kevin Pritchard tweeted was "amazing."

The game itself was an exciting one as David West totaled 28 points and Paul George added 21 points and 11 rebounds for the Central-leading Pacers, who have won five in a row and 10 of 12 games. George Hill chipped in 23 points with six assists and Hibbert finished with 13 points, nine boards and five blocks before getting ejected.

Pacers star forward Danny Granger played his second game of the season after missing time with a balky knee, posting five points in his home debut. He has played no more than 19 minutes in each of his first two outings and scored two points in Saturday's road win at Detroit.

"Every minute that he's out there he's going to get more comfortable," Indiana coach Frank Vogel said in regards to Granger. "It's going to take time."

Indiana has won its last five games by double digits and hasn't allowed 100 points in the last six. The Pacers are second in the NBA in defense, allowing 89.6 ppg, and sit second in the East standings, one-half game ahead of the idle New York Knicks.

The Pacers are unbeaten in their last four home games and own a 24-5 record at the Fieldhouse this season. They will face a Clippers team ranked ninth in the NBA with 100.5 ppg.

"Low turnovers, transition defense. They're the best in the league in stealing the basketball and forcing turnovers," Vogel said of the Clippers. "When they get out in the open court, what's their nickname, Lob City, so we got to sprint back ... If you help at all they just lob it up to the rim and they got guys that can go get it. If you don't help enough, Chris Paul burns you. Maybe the most challenging pick-and-roll attack in the NBA."

Los Angeles, third in the West, just went 2-1 on a three-game homestand and recorded a 106-84 triumph over the Charlotte Bobcats Tuesday from Staples Center. Blake Griffin had 24 points and reserve Matt Barnes added 17 points, seven assists and four steals in the win, L.A.'s second in a row and sixth in seven tries. Caron Butler had 16 points and Paul was held to seven, but handed out 13 assists.

"We did a good job after that initial first quarter," Griffin said."When we get out and get easy buckets it gets us going."

Griffin has scored 17 or more points in the last seven games, averaging 19.7 ppg in that time. He has posted seven or more rebounds and two-plus assists in each game over the stretch. Butler has been playing with ease lately, too, posting 16.0 ppg in the past five games.

In injury news for the Clippers, reserve guards Eric Bledsoe (calf) and Jamal Crawford (personal) did not play in Tuesday's win. Bledsoe is day-to-day and Crawford, who's second on the team with 16.7 ppg, is probable Thursday. Crawford's wife gave birth to the couple's daughter Monday.

The Clippers, who dished out a season-high 34 assists on the Bobcats, will put a three-game road winning streak on the line and are 18-12 away from home. They will visit Cleveland Friday. L.A. has 28 wins this season by 10 or more points, 11 of which have been by 20 or more.

Clippers veteran guard Chauncey Billups played a season-high 24:37 the previous time out and is slowly getting back to playing shape. He is averaging 9.4 points and 2.4 assists this season.

"I was finally at a point where I can increase my minutes a little bit with the exception of back-to-backs where they said they're going to keep me to around 20," Billups told the Clips' website. "But now, in games like (Tuesday) with a day in between, I can push my minutes up. I am going to keep pushing it up all the time and get ready for that run."

The run continues Thursday in Indiana as both teams will meet for the first time since the Pacers' 102-89 home win last March 20. The Pacers have won four of the last six matchups between the teams and three in a row as the host.