Paul George and the Central Division-leading Indiana Pacers are starting to look more and more like serious contenders with each passing game.
A visit from the Charlotte Bobcats isn't likely to slow them down.
Indiana tries to win 10 straight at home for the first time in 10 seasons and avenge a rare loss to the Bobcats as the teams square off Saturday night.
Although they got off to a slow start - including a 90-89 loss at Charlotte (9-26) in their second game of the season Nov. 2 - the Pacers (22-14) have picked up plenty of steam lately. Indiana enters the weekend having won 12 of 15 - including nine in a row on its own court.
The Pacers haven't strung together 10 straight wins in Indianapolis since a 14-game run in 2002-03.
"We want to compete for the one and two (seeds) and for sure want to compete for the No. 1 spot," George said. "We probably could be pushing one or two if we would have started off playing the way we're playing right now."
Yielding an NBA-low 89.1 points per game, the Pacers have given up an even more impressive 82.0 during their home winning streak. Two nights after limiting Miami to its fewest points this season in an 87-77 win, Indiana shut down New York in an 81-76 victory Thursday.
"It's good that we got those wins," George said. "They are great quality wins against two great teams in the East right now. Everybody takes great pride in guarding their guys. Nobody wants to get scored on, on this team."
George had 29 points and 11 rebounds against the Heat, then compiled 24 and 11 to go along with a career-high six steals and five assists against the Knicks. The emerging star, in his third season in the league, is averaging 22.8 points over his last 13 games at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
"He is just blossoming in front of our eyes with special performance after special performance after special performance," coach Frank Vogel said of George. "He's leading our defense, which is becoming a beast and our guys are embracing that identity."
The Pacers, who had their nine-game winning streak in this series snapped in November, have taken seven straight from the Bobcats at home, outscoring them by an average of 28.5 points in two meetings there last season.
Charlotte also couldn't stay close Friday against Toronto as it kicked off a three-game trek with a 99-78 loss - its 21st defeat in 23 games. Ben Gordon, Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist scored 12 points apiece for the Bobcats, who never got back into it after entering the second quarter down 29-16.
"We've got to give ourselves a better chance to compete early in the game," Gordon said. "We can't start out by spotting teams double-digit figures and then trying to climb back. It's too hard to do and we don't have that kind of team."
With his club giving up a league-high 103.9 points per game, coach Mike Dunlap is considering going with a different lineup Saturday.
"We just have to find guys who can start us and get us going, especially on the defensive end," he said.
Walker is averaging a team-high 17.6 points but has put up just 13.6 over his last seven games. He scored 30 against Indiana earlier this season.
The Pacers and Bobcats meet again Tuesday in Charlotte.