Celtics-Pacers Preview

The Associated Press

The Indiana Pacers have surged into second place in the Eastern Conference and have an excellent chance to win their first Central Division title in nine years.

Anything beyond that may involve getting past the Boston Celtics.

In a possible playoff preview, Indiana seeks an eighth victory in nine tries Wednesday night by preventing visiting Boston from extending its winning streak to four games.

Indiana (38-22) continued its recent solid play by defeating Chicago 97-92 on Sunday and leads third-place New York by one-half game in the East. The victory also pushed its Central lead over the Bulls to four games.

David West scored a season-high 31 points and George Hill added 21 for the Pacers, who haven't won a division title since 2003-04.

West is averaging 24.0 points over his last four games.

"(West) leads our team in will,'' coach Frank Vogel said. "He has a great will to do whatever is necessary to get the job done and to get a 'W.'''

The Pacers, winners in 21 of 24 at home, rank second in the league in defense allowing 89.6 points per game.

"Throughout the year, as our defense has continued to grow, we know that we have confidence to make plays in games and to get stops to win," West said.

Indiana's offense, though, let it down in the first meeting with Boston as it shot a season-low 31.8 percent in a 94-75 loss Jan. 4. West and Paul George, who scored 10 points and shot 4 of 14 from the field Sunday, each hit only 4 of 18 shots.

The Pacers know they'll be in for another tough challenge despite not having to face Rajon Rondo, who is out for the season with a torn ACL.

"They have one of the best coaches in the game," Vogel told the team's official website. "They win no matter who's in uniform. That's what kind of team Boston is and that's a credit to Doc Rivers."

Avery Bradley has stepped into a starting role since Rondo's injury, and he scored a season-high 22 points in Tuesday's 109-101 victory at Philadelphia as the Celtics (32-27) won their third straight.

''My teammates have confidence in me and I have confidence in myself,'' said Bradley, who hit 10 of 15 from the field. ''When I have an open shot, I have to take it. That's how we play on this team. It helps us when I do that.''

Vogel said Boston has been just as dangerous with Bradley running the point.

"They're actually running a lot more than they typically do," Vogel said. "They're going to bring more defensive ball pressure when you have Avery Bradley in there at the point guard spot and more of an up-tempo style."

Boston is in seventh place in the East but is only 1 1/2 games behind Chicago for fourth after Paul Pierce finished with 18 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists Tuesday.

Jeff Green scored 16 points off the bench and fellow reserve Jordan Crawford added 12 for the Celtics, who finished 11 of 19 from 3-point range.

''That's the new us in a lot of ways, the ball finds the open guy,'' Rivers said. ''It's simple, but it's hard to do unless you buy in. Everyone has bought in.''

Boston has won three straight and eight of the last 11 meetings with Indiana.

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