The Indiana Pacers have reached unfamiliar territory in their challenging season.
They’re playing well and winning. There’s talk of this team overcoming its injuries to make the playoffs.
The schedule as well as a few breaks are also being kind. The Pacers have won three in a row at home — 105-82 over the New York Knicks Wednesday, 94-74 over the Philadelphia 76ers Sunday and 93-86 over the Cleveland Cavaliers Friday. The Cavs didn’t have LeBron James, who rested, nor point guard Kyrie Irving, who had a shoulder injury. The Knicks and 76ers are two of the NBA’s worst teams.
Nobody was making excuses for the Pacers (26-34) because two-time All-Star Paul George has missed the season so far with a broken leg, so catching teams at the right time doesn’t take away from the team’s recent surge.
Indiana has won nine of 11 entering Friday’s home game against the Chicago Bulls (38-23). And once again, the Pacers are facing a team lessened by injuries. Stars Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler are sidelined.
All that said, the Pacers aren’t getting overly excited about the recent stretch. The Charlotte Hornets (26-33) have also won three in a row and hold the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot at the moment, a half game ahead of Indiana.
“We can’t be complacent,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said Wednesday. “We have to keep winning, that’s the bottom line.”
Reserve point guard Rodney Stuckey, who scored 17 points off the bench against the Knicks, considers each game a “must” win.
The Pacers are 11-3 with starting point guard George Hill in the lineup. Hill scored a season-high 21 points against the Knicks.
After a 7-2 February, the Pacers continue to play solid defense. Seven of the past eight opponents have failed to score 100 points.
“We want to get back to being a dominating defense that we used to be in the past couple of years,” said reserve center Ian Mahinmi. “We’ve practiced hard some of the things that coach has emphasized and it’s pressure. We try to deny stuff and we try to be aggressive.”
The Pacers forced 20 Knicks turnovers. Despite not having center Roy Hibbert, who rested, Indiana blocked eight shots.
Hill’s ability to bring the starters together combined with Stuckey being a continual catalyst for the bench has given the Pacers offensive scoring balance. Each of the 12 players in Wednesday’s win scored. The Pacers’ bench had a 47-21 scoring edge.
“We’ve just go to stay steady,” Hill said. “We’ve got to take it one game at a time, don’t get too high, don’t get too low.”
These Pacers know about dealing with the low part. They’ve overcome lengthy losing streaks of eight, seven and six games to contend for a playoff spot.
How they handle success could determine if in fact they make the playoffs.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.