GAME: Indiana Pacers (15-9) at Dallas Mavericks (20-7).
TIME: Monday, 8:30 p.m. EST.
Without Ron Artest, the Indiana Pacers didn't sound too upset about losing the opener of their three-game road trip. They may be pretty unhappy by the end of it.
That's because they face tough matchups on back-to-back nights against the best teams in the Western Conference, starting with a game against Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks.
Dallas has won five of six at home from Indiana.
After this contest, Indiana stays in Texas for a Tuesday night meeting with Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs, at 21-7 the only team in the West with a better record than Dallas.
The Artest situation remains unresolved - he's been kept inactive since demanding a trade - and the Pacers are 3-2 without him. A loss in the opener of this trip didn't leave Indiana feeling too badly.
The Pacers fell 94-89 Friday to the Cleveland Cavaliers, which have won five straight and owns the second-best record in the Eastern Conference. Besides holding LeBron James to a season-low 14 points, Indiana had fought back from a 22-point deficit to tie the game at 86 with 1:43 to play.
``I thought our guys showed a lot guts, hanging and finding a way to claw back in the game,'' Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. ``Jermaine O'Neal was great and we had a lot of other guys who stepped up and played big. We had a chance, we gave ourselves a chance.''
O'Neal, averaging 26.8 points over the last four games, had a season-high 34 points with 11 rebounds and five blocks. Fred Jones had 15 points for an Indiana bench which scored 33.
``I'm not sure they made more plays, we made all the plays in the fourth quarter,'' Jones said. ``We came back and tied the game, we just could not get over that burden to get the lead and put even more pressure on them.''
Jeff Foster should be feeling some pressure. To take the burden off O'Neal defensively, Foster is likely to do most of the defensive work on Nowitzki and Duncan in the next two games. Foster was inserted into the starting lineup on Friday in place of Austin Croshere and is expected to stay there.
Nowitzki had two outstanding games to help Dallas win over the Sacramento Kings and Seattle SuperSonics after opening its three-game road trip with a loss to the Los Angeles Lakers - the game which saw Kobe Bryant score 62 points in three quarters.
Nowitzki has been the offensive star in the last two games, totaling 70 points, 23 rebounds and 11 assists.
Jason Terry also played a key role in those wins. He scored 19 points for the second straight game on Friday, and hit a 3-pointer with 18 seconds left that lifted the Mavericks to a 101-98 victory Friday over Seattle.
``It's good to get up to a good start going into the holiday season and into the New Year,'' said Terry, whose Mavs have won 10 of 12. ``We are very positive and we like what we are doing on both ends but there is a lot of room for improvement.''
STANDINGS: Pacers - 3rd place (tied), 6 1/2 GB, Central Division. Mavericks - 2nd place, 1/2 GB, Southwest Division.
PROBABLE STARTERS: Pacers - F Stephen Jackson, F O'Neal, C Foster, G Jamaal Tinsley, G Sarunas Jasikevicius. Mavericks - F Josh Howard, F Nowitzki, C Erick Dampier, G Adrian Griffin, G Terry.
TEAM LEADERS: Pacers - O'Neal, 22.5 ppg and 10.6 rpg; Tinsley, 5.6 apg. Mavericks - Nowitzki, 26.5 ppg and 9.4 rpg; Terry, 3.8 apg.
SEASON SERIES: Mavericks, 1-0.
LAST MEETING: Dec. 6; Mavericks, 84-75. At Indianapolis, Nowitzki had 31 points and 11 rebounds and the Mavericks held the Pacers to 34 percent from the field. Indiana's point total remains the lowest allowed by Dallas this season.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Pacers - 6-6 on the road; Mavericks - 10-3 at home.