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Pacers top Knicks for ninth straight home win

The SportsXchange

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indiana Pacers are making believers out of their doubters.

The Pacers picked up their ninth straight home victory, beating the New York Knicks 81-76 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Thursday.

"That's Eastern Conference basketball for you," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. "A solid team win. They're rising to the challenge."

Over the past 11 days, Indiana has beaten the Memphis Grizzlies, Milwaukee Bucks, Miami Heat and now the Knicks -- all teams expected to compete for playoff spots.

"I think our confidence is high and I think it's been like that all year," Pacers point guard George Hill said. "We let a lot of games slip and let some tough ones slip away, too. But we think we can compete with any team in the NBA, and we have to carry ourselves that way and keep playing that way."

Paul George continued to cement his spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star team. The Pacers' third-year forward scored 24 points, including 17 in the second half, and grabbed 11 rebounds to go with his career-high six steals.

"Paul George is just blossoming before our very eyes," Vogel said. "His mindset is to dominate defensively. It's a heck of a weapon to have as a coach."

Ian Mahinmi came off the bench to contribute 13 points and six rebounds for the Pacers, who trail the Knicks by only 1 1/2 games for the second seed

in the East.

"For sure we want to compete for the No. 1 spot, but we have to just take it one game at a time," George said.

New York's J.R. Smith scored a game-high 25 points. The Knicks played without All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony, who served a one-game suspension

for attempting to confront the Boston Celtics' Kevin Garnett after Monday's game.

The Pacers thought they got some breathing room in the third quarter when they built an 11-point lead, but Smith brought the Knicks back and gave them

a two-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.

Indiana locked up New York's offense in the fourth quarter. The Knicks were held to 16 points in the final period. The Pacers held the Knicks to two points over the first seven minutes and four points through the first nine-plus minutes of the final quarter.

"I don't know if we were fatigued or we ran out of juice," Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. "We couldn't get anything going pace-wise. It was a struggle both ways."

The Pacers, winners of nine straight at home, have held three straight opponents to 80 points or less and have held 13 of their last 15 opponents to fewer than 90 points.

"Anybody that knows sports knows that a team that can be the best defensive team in the league, whatever sport it is, has a chance to go all the way," Vogel said. "We're keeping it on an even keel. We're understanding what we're doing defensively is special. If our offense ever starts catching up, we're going to be a tough team to beat."

The first half was far from a thing of beauty. Neither team led by more than eight points, and neither team shot better than 36 percent.

The Pacers seemed to let playing on national television for the first time this season get to them early in the game.

The Knicks jumped out to a seven-point lead midway through the first quarter.

The Pacers bounced back and closed the period on 12-3 run to take a 16-14 lead into the second.

The Pacers -- again -- closed out another quarter on a surge. This time they pushed their lead up to eight points before Jason Kidd made a 3-pointer

in the final seconds to cut Indiana's advantage to 39-34 at halftime.

George was brutal offensively in the first half. He scored seven points on 2-of-9 shooting, but he did grab six rebounds. Smith wasn't much better

for New York. The gunner had eight points on 3-of-11 shooting in the half.

NOTES: Chris Copeland started in Anthony's place, and he scored eight points in 22 minutes. ... Hill returned to the starting lineup after sitting out the fourth quarter of Tuesday's game against the Miami Heat and missing practice Wednesday due to bronchitis. Hill finished with six points. ... Vogel said forward Danny Granger, out all season with a knee injury, is still on schedule to return later this month or in early February. ... TNT analyst Reggie Miller, who spent his 18-year career with the Pacers, called an Indiana game on television for only the second time. The other time was on Thanksgiving 2005. "Working with Dick Stockton," the Hall of Famer recalled of his play-by-play partner. The Pacers showed a video tribute to Miller during a timeout in the first quarter.
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