The Los Angeles Clippers survived without Chris Paul in their last game and hope their All-Star point guard can return against the NBA's best defense.
After sitting out Friday because of a strained hamstring, Paul is hoping he can play Sunday when the Clippers host the league-leading Indiana Pacers.
"I want to play," Paul said after missing a 104-98 overtime victory against Sacramento. "If I can play, I will. If not, I'll rest it."
He leads the NBA with a career-best 12.2 assists per game to go along with 19.0 points and 2.4 steals. With Paul at the helm, Los Angeles (12-5) is second in the league with a 106.8 scoring average this season. The Clippers have been even better at home, going 8-1 at Staples Center while scoring 112.4 per game.
Paul and his teammates are in for a challenge against the Pacers (15-1), who are allowing the fewest points (85.6) and assists (15.5) per game in the league and have limited opponents to 38.7 percent shooting - also an NBA best.
Friday's victory improved Los Angeles to 10-9 in games without Paul since he was acquired in a trade prior to the 2011-12 season.
If Paul can't go, the Clippers will again look to Jamal Crawford for a spark. The team's sixth man scored a season-high 31 points against the Kings, shooting 12 of 22 from the field, while also dishing out 11 assists. He saved his best for overtime, scoring or assisting on eight of the team's 10 points in the extra period.
"It's weird because I'm 33 but I feel like I'm getting better," said Crawford. "I'm learning more, I have a great coach and great teammates. I'll continue to get better."
The Pacers will offer a much tougher test coming off one of their best defensive efforts of the season. Indiana won its sixth straight with a 93-73 victory over Washington on Friday that matched a season low for points allowed.
"I knew we would be a good team," coach Frank Vogel said. "They are driven and hungry. We're off to a good start."
The start is not only good, its the best in franchise history.
In addition to their lockdown defense, the Pacers also have a variety of scoring options that could cause fits for Los Angeles, which has struggled defensively with 101.6 points allowed per game. Indiana has five players averaging in double figures.
Lance Stephenson was the catalyst against the Wizards, finishing with seven points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. Paul George scored 23 points, while both Roy Hibbert and George Hill chipped in with 13.
"I know my teammates can hit shots," Stephenson said. "I just try to create and get them open. It's a blessing to have a team that can knock down shots."
The Pacers, who are 6-1 away from home, will be kicking off a five-game trip that features four matchups against some of the best teams in the Western Conference. Indiana will also face Portland, San Antonio and Oklahoma City on the trip.
Indiana dropped seven of its first 11 road games against the West last season before winning the last four, including a 109-106 victory over the Clippers on April 1.
"(The Washington game) we needed to win to prepare for our West Coast trip," said George, a California native. "The next couple of weeks will be tough. We will have to be ready mentally and physically."