INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana keeps finding different ways to survive games without Paul George. On Friday, they simply wore down weary Chicago.
Solomon Hill scored 16 points and Ian Mahinmi finished with a season-high 14 points and 11 rebounds to help the Pacers pull away late for their fourth straight victory, 98-84.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who can step up on this team and score some baskets, step in and play good defense,” Rodney Stuckey said after scoring 12 points and grabbing seven rebounds. “Ian did a great job tonight. So anybody is capable of stepping up and doing a good job for us.”
The result: Indiana (27-34) is on its longest winning streak since last March, and it couldn’t come at a better time.
The Pacers have tied rival Miami for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East, and Paul George’s surprising return could come as soon as next week. George has said he’s targeting mid-March to make his comeback. Indiana hosts Boston on March 14 and Toronto on March 16. The team has not established an official timetable.
Even without George, Indiana has finally found a winning combination.
Six players scored in double figures Friday, including David West who joined Mahinmi in the double-double club with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Indiana also held Chicago to 36 percent shooting, seized control early in the fourth and finally pulled away with a 10-2 spurt midway through the fourth.
The Pacers see that as a perfect foundation for the final quarter of the season.
“I would say that it (positive energy) is as strong as it has been since the beginning of last year,” coach Frank Vogel said. “Very different teams, very different seasons but we’re very positive we can achieve some great things down the stretch here.”
Chicago (39-24) was led by Pau Gasol with 18 points and 10 rebounds and rookie Doug McDermott, who had a season high 16 points in 16 1/2 minutes.
The Bulls again played without their top two scorers, Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose, and had just beaten Oklahoma City 108-105 on Thursday. They still fought hard for 3 1/2 quarters before running out of steam.
“We just couldn’t finish our defense as well as we could have,” coach Tom Thibodeau said.
The Pacers took advantage of those late lapses.
After seeing Chicago rally from a 11-point deficit early in the third quarter to take a 68-66 lead on E’Twaun Moore’s free throws to start the fourth, Indiana answered with seven straight points to make it 73-68.
The Pacers followed that with a 10-2 spurt that extended the lead to 87-76 with 3:37 left, and the Bulls never got closer than nine again.
“We’re just trying to steadily improve every single game, regardless of who the opponent is,” West said. “The defense is coming around. Guys are in a pretty good rhythm and we just want to keep it going.”
Bulls: How good are the Bulls at finding replacements? Vogel called Chicago the best next-man-up team in sports. That’s something coach Thibodeau says is inherent in the team’s culture because they Bulls had so much experience with it. Butler and Rose didn’t make the trip to Indy. Backup Taj Gibson also sat out Friday.
Pacers: While Indiana is playing well, it has come with some big breaks. During the current stretch, in which they’ve won 10 of 12, the Pacers have beaten Golden State without Stephen Curry, Cleveland without LeBron James or Kyrie Irving, the Knicks without Carmelo Anthony and now Chicago without Rose or Butler.
The Pacers pulled off a rare feat Friday. Indiana’s five starters combined for 49 points, and the five backups also combined for 49 points. Chicago got 31 points from its four backups including five from Moore, the former Purdue star.
Bulls: travel to San Antonio on Sunday.
Pacers: visit the New York Knicks on Saturday.
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