A home defeat to the New Orleans Hornets in their first game back from the All-Star break showed the Eastern Conference-leading Indiana Pacers they couldn’t take opponents lightly in the second half of the season.
They haven’t lost since.
Indiana looks for its fourth straight win since that loss to New Orleans as the Central Division rivals conclude their season series.
The Pacers had the best record in the East at the break last season, but went 14-19 the rest of the way and lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Boston Celtics.
Isiah Thomas was fired as coach and Rick Carlisle was brought in to rectify Indiana’s second-half play, but the Pacers put forth a poor effort in the 89-75 loss to the Hornets on Feb. 17.
On Tuesday, All-Star center Jermaine O’Neal scored a season-high 34 points to lead the Pacers to a 107-96 win over the Warriors at Conseco Fieldhouse.
O’Neal showcased his range, making several of his 14 baskets from outside 12 feet.
“Jermaine’s entire game continues to evolve in quantum leaps,” Carlisle said. “We know he’s the best post player in the East, but now he’s got the outside shot to complement that. He’s got a good feel now for when to go to it.”
New Orleans lost two of three after its win in Indianapolis last week, but rebounded to beat the Los Angeles Clippers 99-93 at home on Wednesday.
Only two days after blowing a 25-point lead in a loss at Cleveland, New Orleans played what coach Tim Floyd called “lax defense” against Los Angeles in the first half.
The Clippers average 16 turnovers per game but didn’t give the ball away once in the first half, which is why they were down only 50-49 at halftime despite New Orleans’ 53 percent shooting.
“Coach got on us (at halftime). He challenged us on the defensive end and we were able to extend our pressure,” Hornets guard Baron Davis said. “We’re a good defensive ballclub when we want to play defense and tonight was just a tale of two different halves.”
The Pacers have won all three meetings in New Orleans since the Hornets moved there prior to last season.