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Pacers vs. Bucks Preview | East-leading Pacers roll into town for Big Dog, Coolio and Y2K night

The Bucks saved their best theme night of the season for arguably their toughest opponent: Paul George, Roy Hibbert and mighty Indiana Pacers.

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Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports
2012/2013 NBA Season
(41-13, 15-10 road)
(10-44, 6-22 home)
February 22, 2014
BMO Harris Bradley Center | Milwaukee, WI
7:30 CT
FS Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ
Probable Starters
George Hill PG Brandon Knight
Lance Stephenson SG Nate Wolters
Paul George SF Khris Middleton
David West PF Ersan Ilyasova
Roy Hibbert C John Henson
2012/13 Advanced Stats
93.6 (18th) Pace 91.8 (25th)
104.7 (20th) ORtg 99.5 (29th)
96.3 (1st) DRtg 109.5 (30th)

On the Pacers: Indy Cornrows | Eight Points, Nine SecondsSB Nation Indiana

Pacers update. While the Bucks used the trade deadline for some early spring cleaning, the best team in the Eastern Conference decided to get even better. The Pacers beat the deadline buzzer by sending the Artist Formerly Known as Danny Grainger to Philadelphia and a future second rounder for free agent-to-be Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen, solidifying their bench at the expense of their one-time star in Grainger. While Turner isn't as good as his raw numbers (17.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 3.7 apg) might suggest--his efficiency is middling and defense nothing to write home about--he looks like a clear talent upgrade off the bench and provides some insurance this summer in case Indiana is unable to retain Lance Stephenson.

The biggest challenge for Turner would appear to be adjusting to a new role: he's had the green light to do whatever he wants for a bad Sixers team, so while he'll presumably still see the ball a fair bit with the Pacers' second unit, expectations will be very different playing as a role player for a great Indiana team.

UPDATE: Turner and Allen are not expected to play tonight.

Indy 500? Despite their name, the Pacers don't play particularly fast: they're 18th in pace, 22nd in fast break points per game (11.0), and rank below league average offensively (20th). But man do they defend. Indiana leads the league in scoring defense and ranks in the top five in two point FG% allowed (1st), three point FG% allowed (3rd) and defensive rebound rate (1st), combining a dominant interior presence (Roy Hibbert), a tough-as-nails big next to him (David West) and a big, athletic set of perimeter defenders led by likely All-NBAer Paul George. Indiana remains 1.5 games ahead of Miami for pole position in the East, which figures to be critical given one of those teams is virtually assured of a trip to the finals.

In other words, the Bucks have their work cut out for them tonight. Indiana is a tall order for any team, let alone one that is 1-21 against teams with .500 or better records. And while they've had some slip-ups lately (in Orlando, at home vs. Dallas and on the road in Minnesota on Wednesday), the Pacers remain in a different basketball stratosphere than Milwaukee.  They're big, they're physical, and they're probably not too happy to have lost three of their last five. Points will be hard to come by against the league's best defense, so the Bucks' only real chance is to hope guys get hot from deep--Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton, Ersan Ilyasova, et al--and Indiana doesn't bring its A-game.

Y2K. Kudos to the Bucks for putting together one of the best promotions of the season in the NBA. Broken fax machines not withstanding, the Bucks will dial the clock back 14 years tonight with a special appearance from Glenn Robinson and a halftime performance by Coolio. The Big Dog was my favorite Buck growing up--sorry, I was just never a Ray Allen guy--which made Alex Boeder's feature on Glenn and Jim Paschke's interview with him last week a couple of my favorite reads/watches in a while.

Depending on how you look at it, the timing couldn't be better, or stranger, or worse. The 2000/2001 season remains the Bucks' only 50-win campaign of the past two decades, and the only season in the same span that saw the Bucks advance past the first round of the playoffs. It's a stark reminder of everything the current Bucks team is not, as well as the long road that likely sits ahead. The Bucks have just 28 games to double their current win total and match the 93/94 squad's franchise-worst 20-62 effort, an unlikely feat for a team that has won just ten times in 54 tries.

But we all know that there can still be silver linings to the struggles. Back in 1994, all those losses eventually paid off in the form of Robinson, whom the Bucks selected first overall in a draft that also featured Jason Kidd and Grant Hill. But Robinson was never quite the superstar Bucks fans hoped for, and it took another six years and a series of shrewd moves--scooping up Ray Allen on draft night in 1996, adding Sam Cassell and a series of other key vets like Ervin Johnson and Scott Williams--before the Bucks were finally contenders again.

As for the here and now: great and cheap tickets are still available, and if you are going to the game here are some details to keep in mind:

Changing of the guard. O.J. Mayo looked solid--if occasionally distracted--in his much-delayed return to competitive basketball on Thursday night, scoring 11 points on 5/10 shooting in 23 minutes off the bench. That was probably a bit more burn than Larry Drew would have wanted, but he didn't have much choice with Brandon Knight (foot laceration) and Ramon Sessions (still en route from Charlotte) unavailable. Still, Drew was happy with what he saw, even if he still considers Mayo a ways from being in game shape. Via Andrew Gruman:

"I thought he did a really good job," Drew said. "I saw some really good energy in him. From a rhythm standpoint, I thought he played from within himself and he really exerted himself on the defensive end. It was really good to have him out there and good to see him back in a rhythm.

"He's going to have to play his way into shape. He's not in shape right now but I told him I wanted him to give me the nod when he needed to get a blow. But having been out as long as he's been out, I thought he played well tonight."

Both Knight and Sessions should be available tonight, so we'll presumably see Knight and Wolters reunited as the starting backcourt with Sessions coming off the bench--which would mark his first action as a Buck since leaving Milwaukee in the summer of 2009. Sessions' expiring deal makes it unlikely that we'll see him in a Bucks uniform next season, but that doesn't seem to bother the 27-year-old veteran. Via Charles Gardner:

"I loved playing here my first two years," Sessions said after the shootaround prior to Saturday's home game against Indiana. "When I heard Milwaukee, even though they're going through the rebuilding stages, it was still exciting. They gave me an opportunity to play and I'm just happy to be back in Milwaukee."

Sessions played a key backup role behind starting point guard Kemba Walker in Charlotte. And Sessions' versatility allows him to play either guard spot, something that appealed to the Bucks in making the deal.

"Nate (Wolters) is a young fella; Brandon (Knight) is young also," Sessions said. "Those guys are exceptional players. I'm just going to come in and try to bring my leadership. I've been around for a while. I've played with a lot of different teams and in a lot of different scenarios."