The Indiana Pacers' strong start is falling in line with the team's larger goal for the season.
Looking to go 4-0 for the first time in nine years, the visiting Pacers try for a sixth consecutive victory over the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday night.
Even with star Danny Granger nursing a calf injury and guard George Hill in danger of missing a second straight game with a sore hip, Indiana won't veer from its goal of supplanting two-time defending NBA champion Miami atop the Eastern Conference.
"We're competing for a one seed (in the East)," coach Frank Vogel told the Pacers' official website. "We said from the opening day of training camp, that's what we're going after.
"It's going to be a battle but we're off to strong start. We've got to keep it going."
After allowing an NBA-low 42.0 percent shooting while playing without Granger for practically all of last season's run to the conference finals, the Pacers have held their first three opponents to 37.9. Indiana limited Cleveland to 34.9 percent from the floor and outrebounded the Cavaliers 51-37 en route to an 89-74 victory Saturday.
"I'm happy with the defense," Vogel said. "These guys, when the game's on the line, they tighten the screws."
Lance Stephenson scored 22 and Paul George added 21 and 13 rebounds to help the Pacers start 3-0 for the second time in three seasons.
"We're getting better along the way," said George, averaging career highs of 25.7 points and 48.1 percent shooting. "Every game we're improving and we're learning. We're taking care of business."
Indiana has certainly done that while posting five straight victories over the Pistons (2-1) by an average of 17.2 points. Detroit has shot 36.1 percent and averaged 77.5 points in the last four meetings.
The Pistons, however, won their first two home games and took Memphis to overtime in a 111-108 road loss Friday.
Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond posted double-doubles while Brandon Jennings scored 14 points in 30 minutes of his Detroit debut, an 87-77 win over Boston on Sunday.
After averaging 110.5 points and 48.5 percent shooting in the first two games, Detroit was held to 44.7 percent from the field Sunday. The Pistons, though, forced 24 turnovers and went on a 10-0 fourth-quarter run to take control.
Jennings, acquired in a trade that sent Brandon Knight to Milwaukee in July, missed the first two games and most of the preseason with a jaw fracture related to a wisdom tooth.
"It was good to see him out there and the effect he can have on the team," coach Maurice Cheeks said. "He brings a little electricity to a game."
Jennings had two of the 21 turnovers committed by the Pistons, who have 60 through three games.
"Our defense is usually pretty good but when we have turnovers, it's tough to get back and defend," Cheeks said. "It's something we have to keep working on."
Monroe is averaging career highs of 18.3 points and 11.3 rebounds. The Pacers, however, have limited him to 17 points and 6-of-25 shooting with 16 boards in the last two matchups.
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