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Pacers not playing well but finding ways to earn wins


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INDIANAPOLIS

No one has to remind the Indiana Pacers they are not razor-sharp at the moment.

They are quite aware of that.

But with a four-game winning streak, and a 3½-game lead in the race for the No. 1 Eastern Conference playoff seed, they are hardly in panic mode.

Rather, with 15 games left, they are trying to maintain distance between themselves and second-place Miami and are braced for more of what they’ve been getting lately — every opponent’s best shot.

“We’ve been getting everybody’s best for a while now,” said forward Paul George, who had 24 points during Monday night’s less-than-pretty home victory against the woeful Philadelphia 76ers. “All of our wins of late have been ugly.

“We’re just going against (every opponent) and having to learn how to keep the same intensity, whatever game it is.”

At this juncture, winning is all that matters.

Indiana (50-17) enters tonight’s game at lottery-bound New York (27-40) on a roll. Although all four victories during their current streak were against sub-.500 opponents, and each was a struggle, the Pacers found ways to hang on and, as a result, have stretched their East lead against the floundering Miami Heat.

Cognizant of the need to sharpen their game as the playoffs approach, the Pacers take a measure of comfort in the fact they are still moving forward, not backward, in the sprint to the finish.

“It’s a good milestone. Anytime you have 50 wins with (15) games left, it’s huge,” point guard George Hill said. “I’m very excited to get to that milestone, and we’ve got to keep it going.”

Although not enamored of recent performances, Indiana coach Frank Vogel applauds the results. The Pacers have put distance between themselves and Miami, which has lost five of its last seven games, and are the first team in the East to win 50 games.

“A good achievement for our organization to win 50 games,” Vogel said after Monday’s uneven performance against Philadelphia, which has lost 21 straight games. “It has been a little bit of a grind of late, but still 50 wins is a heck of an achievement that I’m proud of my guys.”

Especially since the Pacers have been a marked team the entire season.

Possessors of the NBA’s best record for much of the first two-thirds of the season (San Antonio now has the best record), the Pacers have led the East wire-to-wire and successfully regrouped after difficult stretches.

For example, Indiana’s four-game win streak comes in wake of a four-game skid that threatened to created a passing lane for the defending two-time champion Heat, who were within two games of taking the lead. But instead of yielding ground, the Pacers successfully — albeit incrementally — increased their edge.

Although the race is far from over, the Pacers have no complaints about their positioning and claim to pay little or no attention to the standings.

“We got away from that. That doesn’t matter where they (Heat) are,” Hill said. “Our focus is on how we can get better and just worry about ourselves.”

At this point, that’s all the Pacers can do. That, and expect more of the best opponents are likely to throw their way.

“We’ll just have to gauge ourselves in terms of how we want to be,” forward David West said. “If we’ll play team ball and be tied together defensively, we’ll have some success. If not, we’re going to struggle.”

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