INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—Indiana’s Danny Granger is making the most of his opportunity.
Forced into more minutes after the Pacers made Ron Artest inactive, the rookie forward scored a career-high 16 points and grabbed seven rebounds to help the Pacers beat the Los Angeles Clippers 97-75 on Wednesday night.
Granger said he is starting to gain confidence.
“The more I play, the easier it is for me and the more comfortable I get,” he said. “I like to help on defense and block shots, and on the offensive end, take my shots as they come to me.”
Granger still looked like a rookie when he guarded Elton Brand, who finished with 29 points and 12 rebounds.
“He’s so strong,” Granger said. “He’s got a strong body, strong legs. You’ve just got to try to keep the ball away from him as much as possible. He’s an all-star, probably an MVP candidate this year. I did my best.”
The Pacers won their third game in a row heading into a road trip that includes games against Cleveland, Dallas and San Antonio. Their 15-8 record is second-best in the Eastern Conference.
The Clippers have lost five of their last six after starting the season 14-5.
Chris Kaman had 13 points and 16 rebounds for the Clippers.
Indiana held the Clippers to 37 percent shooting from the field to sweep the season series. The Pacers defeated the Clippers 97-92 on Nov. 27 at the Staples Center.
Brand shot 11-for-20 from the field, but the rest of the Clippers shot 22-for-69. The Pacers elected to play man-to-man defense instead of double-teaming Brand, and they said it paid off.
“We stayed on top of them defensively and made them take some tough shots,” Jackson said. “They’re a great team, and they’re going to continue to get better, we just played hard and wanted this game. We needed it.”
The Pacers countered Brand’s dominance with balance. Jermaine O’Neal had 15 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks as the Pacers shot 51 percent from the field.
The Clippers missed 15 of their first 17 shots from the field, but only trailed 24-18 at the end of the first quarter.
Granger scored eight points in the second quarter to help Indiana take a 46-38 halftime lead.
The Pacers led 66-58 at the end of the third quarter before the Clippers cut Indiana’s lead to 72-68 on a Daniel Ewing dunk.
Fred Jones made a 3-pointer, Jackson made a free throw and Granger hit a jump shot to increase Indiana’s lead to 78-68 with 7:42 left.
The Clippers cut the Pacers’ lead to 78-72 with 5:12 left, but the Pacers outscored the Clippers 19-3 the rest of the way.
Los Angeles lost at New Jersey on Tuesday night, but the rested Pacers hadn’t played since Saturday. Brand said the Clippers are going to have to handle situations like this better if they want to become a playoff-caliber team.
“We do have teams coming for us now, zeroing in on us with a big target on us,” he said. “Yes, we did play last night and this was a back-to-back. But that’s no excuse for playing the way we did tonight.”
Shaun Livingston had 10 points and five assists in 39 minutes for the Clippers in his first start of the season. … Los Angeles’ Corey Maggette sat out for the eighth-straight game with a sprained ligament in his left foot. He averages 22 points per game. … The Pacers are 5-2 without Ron Artest, who has been put on the inactive list indefinitely after publicly requesting a trade. Artest leads the league in steals per game and is second on the team in scoring.