A career year from Danny Granger hasn't kept the Indiana Pacers from settling into last place in the Central Division. Based on their play without the versatile small forward, the team might not be at the bottom much longer.
The Pacers go for their third straight win without their leading scorer Monday night when they visit the New York Knicks.
Granger ranks among league leaders with a career-high 25.0 points per game and 138 3-pointers. Despite the success of the first-time All-Star, Indiana (24-34) has spent most of 2008-09 in last place in a division with only one winning team.
The Pacers, though, could be poised to move out of the cellar if they continue their strong play without Granger, who's sidelined by a right foot injury. They've won consecutive games without him to improve to 5-1 when he doesn't play this season. They're also 4-1 when playing without Granger and Mike Dunleavy, who's nursing a knee injury that's limited him to 18 games.
With both players sidelined Sunday, Troy Murphy had a season-high 27 points and 14 rebounds to lead Indiana to a 98-91 victory over Chicago. The Pacers pulled within two games of the Bulls in the Central standings.
"It is surprising, but I think teams look at that and come into the game seeing we're missing Mike and Danny, they might take us a little lightly," Murphy said. "So I think that has a lot to do with it. They overlook us."
Granger is expected to be out up to another two weeks with a foot injury, and Dunleavy is out indefinitely.
Though the Pacers have fared well without some of their top offensive options, it wasn't easy at some points Sunday. They were held without a field goal for more than 11 minutes between the third and fourth quarters.
"That's where we miss a guy like Danny," Murphy said. "He's a guy that can come in and knock down some shots and you can give him the ball and get out of his way. We have to make sure we don't have those kind of lulls. We can't have 11-minute stretches without scoring."
The Pacers could have an easier time avoiding such a drought against the Knicks (23-32), one of three teams in the league giving up more points (107.6) than the Pacers (106.5).
Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni said New York's defense "wasn't firing on all cylinders" in the second half of a 111-100 loss at Toronto on Sunday.
"I was just a little disappointed in our getting back on defense," he said. "Maybe we were surprised by them but we lost the theme of the game right in the middle of the third quarter."
The Knicks have given up 119.3 points per game in seven February losses and have held opponents to 102.0 points in two wins this month. Those two wins came in the team's last two games at Madison Square Garden, where the Knicks are 16-12.
New York has split its first two meetings with Indiana. Pacers guard Jarrett Jack had 29 points and Murphy added 15 and 18 rebounds as the Pacers earned their fifth straight win over the Knicks 105-103 on Jan. 2.
New York snapped that skid with a 122-113 road win Jan. 13. Former Pacer Al Harrington had 31 points in that game, and David Lee added 23 points and 17 boards.