The Indiana Pacers exceeded even their increased expectations over the first half of the season, and coach Frank Vogel believes his team is only going to get better.
The Pacers come out of the All-Star break looking to win five straight games for the first time in nearly two years Tuesday night against the visiting Golden State Warriors.
After earning the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference last season with a 37-45 record, Indiana (21-12) trails only Miami and Chicago. The Pacers experienced a rough stretch in mid-February with five straight losses, but have since regrouped to win four in a row.
"Our team has no ceiling," Vogel said after Wednesday's 102-88 win at Charlotte. "I've said that from Day 1. I know we can play with the best in the league.
"We've just got to do it on a consistent enough basis to earn one of the league's best records. We are near the top. We want to be at the top. We've got great talent at every position. We're not a mega-star team but we've got stars on our team."
The Pacers, who haven't won five straight games since March 19-26, 2010, sent one player - Roy Hibbert - to Sunday's All-Star game. The 7-foot-2 center finished with three points and three rebounds in 10 minutes in the East's loss.
"It was a great atmosphere," said Hibbert, who averages 13.8 points and a team-best 9.6 rebounds. "I can't wait to get back to Indiana and go back to work."
The Pacers, who ease into the second half of their schedule with three more days off following Tuesday's game, defeated the Warriors 94-91 on Jan. 20, but the outcome was controversial.
With the score tied in the closing seconds, Indiana's George Hill knocked the ball away from Monta Ellis and then converted a three-point play for the final margin. Replays showed Hill intentionally kicked the ball away from Ellis, and the NBA admitted the following day that the officials missed the call.
It was a tough way to lose for the Warriors (13-17), but avenging that defeat won't be easy with the rematch in Indianapolis.
The Pacers, 10-4 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, have won four straight home games over Golden State since a 113-98 loss Feb. 5, 2007, their lone defeat in the last 10 meetings in Indiana.
The Warriors also have the difficult task of facing an Indiana defense allowing an average of 89.3 points during its winning streak - and possibly doing so without Stephen Curry.
Curry, who averages 16.5 points, sprained a ligament in his right foot during Wednesday's 106-104 win at Phoenix and is listed as day-to-day.
His potential absence may force Ellis to take on an even bigger role.
Ellis, who averages a team-best 22.4 points - the highest for any player not named an All-Star - hit a 20-foot fadeaway with 1 second remaining against the Suns. He finished with 26 points, and is averaging 30.3 on 47.7 percent shooting - including 10 of 17 from 3-point range - in his last three games after averaging 13.0 points on 28.6 percent shooting in his previous three.
Ellis had 25 points against the Pacers last month, making all three of his shots in the final two minutes.
Indiana's Danny Granger led all scorers with 26 points in that game, while Hibbert finished with 10 points and 16 rebounds.
Granger, who averages a team-high 18.0 points, regularly burns a Golden State team not known for its defense. In seven games against the Warriors since the start of 2008-09, Granger is averaging 31.6 points, his highest against any opponent.
This game will be the first in Indiana as a visitor for Warriors guard Brandon Rush, a starter for the Pacers for much of the past three seasons before being replaced by Paul George, then dealt to Golden State in December. Rush leads the NBA in 3-point shooting (52.4 percent) but is averaging just 6.0 points in February.
- Golden State Warriors
- Indiana Pacers
- Monta Ellis