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Pacers’ George regains All-Star touch


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INDIANAPOLIS

Paul George hasn’t been in panic mode. Nor have the Indiana Pacers.

Both knew it was only a matter of time before the MVP candidate, suffering a mini slump, returned to All-Star form.

It happened Tuesday night, with a 31-point eruption against the visiting Sacramento Kings.

For George and the Pacers, the most encouraging aspect wasn’t the point total itself but how he tallied it: With accuracy from the field.

In the previous seven outings, he shot 35 percent from the floor.

Against the Kings, he shot 55 percent.

“I just think it was staying with it. I’ve been staying in the gym and getting up shots,” said George, who was 10 of 18 from the floor Tuesday, including four of seven beyond arc. “Once I got a couple going, I started to feel the rhythm that I’ve been feeling all year.

“It was good to see a couple of them fall.”

It was good for George and good for the Pacers, who know their postseason fortunes ride, in large measure, on how far their leading scorer can take them.

Although the Pacers (30-7) take the NBA’s best record into tonight’s home game against the New York Knicks (15-23) and are the first team in the Eastern Conference to reach 30 wins, they did absorb two unlikely losses during George’s rough patch.

The first was Jan. 1 at Toronto, where he scored 12 points on 5 of 14 shooting in a 95-82 defeat. The second was a Jan. 8 at Atlanta, where he scored 28 points but was 11 of 25 from the floor in a 97-87 loss.

During that seven-game stretch, George was a combined 41 of 118 from the field, with the low-water mark being an eight-point, two-of-14 outing during last Friday’s 93-66 win against visiting Washington.

His struggles notwithstanding, George — the NBA’s ninth-leading scorer at 22.8 ppg — didn’t lose his shooting nerve. Rather, he spent extra time steeling it.

“The past week I’ve been shooting the ball well in practice,” he said. “It’s feeling back like it’s been feeling all year long.”

Pacers coach Frank Vogel, who will coach the East All-Stars in the Feb. 16 All-Star Game, regards George’s recent rocky streak as an anomaly, not a trend.

“I’m more used to what he did (Tuesday) than what he did the two, three prior games,” said Vogel, whose All-Star squad almost certainly will include not only George but another Pacer or two, such as David West and/or Roy Hibbert.

Even when their star player slumped, the depth-laden Pacers overcame it. They won 10 of their past 12 games and have the NBA’s best home record at 19-1.

Indiana has won eight straight at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, where they play twice more — tonight against the Knicks and Saturday against the L.A. Clippers — before departing for a four-game West Coast trip.

“Throughout our whole locker room we’ve built that culture (that) we’re going to be dominant at home,” George said. “And we’re working toward being that team on the road, as well, but it’s just something about home that we just try to protect.”

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