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Nearly six months ago, the Indiana Pacers visited the Cleveland Cavaliers for a winner-take-all game in the first round of the playoffs.
The Cavaliers needed 45 points from a cramped up LeBron James to escape Indiana's pesky challenge in a 105-101 victory in Game 7. Now James is sporting the purple and gold jersey of the Los Angeles Lakers and like the first time the superstar departed in 2010, it is a struggle tor the Cavaliers.
It is something various Pacers are well aware off heading into Saturday's visit to Cleveland, where the Cavaliers are still searching for their first win.
"Of course, that's the team that knocked us out of the playoffs," Indiana guard Darren Collison said after Friday's practice. "Regardless of who they have this year, there's still that bitter feeling of last year."
Indiana forced a seventh game by getting a 121-87 home win and erased a 14-point deficit in Game 7, but James took over, negating a 30-point showing by Victor Oladipo on April 29.
"Definitely going to be weird," Indiana forward Thaddeus Young said. "It's always weird when you've seen a guy in one jersey for the past three or four years and played him the last two playoffs.
"We're not going to take it as if he's not out there. We're going to go out there and try to win at all costs. We know that they're not the team that they were last year, but they're still capable of beating us."
Cleveland is off to its first 0-5 start since James lost the first five games of his rookie season in 2003-04. The Cavaliers last began with six straight losses in 1995-96 when they opened 0-7 before recovering to win 47 games.
Cleveland also opened with six straight losses in 1984-85 when it started 0-9 under coach George Karl as well as 1972-73 and 1970-71 (15 straight losses).
In Cleveland's last 0-6 start, it finished with the league's top scoring defense, but so far its defense has been a significant issue. Cleveland is allowing 118.4 points. Opponents are shooting 48.9 percent and making 42.5 from 3-point range.
Cleveland allowed 131 and 133 points in losses to Minnesota and Atlanta, respectively, but has given up 102 and 110 in the last two games. On Thursday, Cleveland allowed 52.9 percent shooting in a 110-103 loss at Detroit and could not stop Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, who combined for 52 points.
"I thought our fight was there and all our guys competed," Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said. "The room for error is just so slim with us right now. Just the small things we've got to continue to get better at.
"It's going to come with time. Especially with young guys understanding what we're trying to do. For the most part, I was really pleased with our fight."
The margin for error is less without Kevin Love, who sat out with left foot soreness. It is the same injury that sidelined Love for portions of the preseason.
Love is averaging 19.0 points and 13.5 rebounds but shooting just 32 percent. On Thursday, Channing Frye started in place of Love, who is listed as questionable.
Kyle Korver led Cleveland with 21 points in 22 minutes after barely playing in the first four games.
Indiana is concluding a three-game trip and hoping Saturday is similar to Wednesday's 116-96 win in San Antonio and not Monday's 101-91 loss at Minnesota.
"That's going to be a desperate team," Pacers coach Nate McMillan said. "They haven't won a game. They're going to come out with a sense of urgency. For us, we definitely we want to go there and take care of business."
The Pacers shot 39.6 percent and committed 16 turnovers on Monday, but two nights later they shot 52.9 percent, hit 17 3-pointers and had a season-best 34 assists, the most since getting 35 assists on Nov. 1 in Cleveland.
"Our goal each night is to get 25-plus assists," McMillan said. "Tonight, we had 34. When we're moving the ball like that and sharing the ball, and no one cares who is scoring, everybody gets involved and it's a beautiful game to watch."
The ball movement resulted in seven players reaching double figures. Oladipo led the Pacers with 21 points and nine assists on 7-of-12 shooting after an 8-of-23 showing Monday.
Tyreke Evans added 19 points, but he will not make the trip to Cleveland. At practice on Friday, McMillan did not provide a reason for Evans' absence.
Oladipo averaged 22.7 points in the postseason against the Cavs. He also averaged 25 points as Indiana took three of four regular-season meetings from Cleveland last season.
Updated October 26, 2018