(AP) Pacers beat Nets to improve NBA-best start to 7-0
By BRIAN MAHONEY
AP Basketball Writer
Falling a game short of the NBA Finals last season, the clear goal for the Indiana Pacers is the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and the home-court advantage that comes with it.
Keep this up, and they will have the best record in the whole league.
Paul George scored 24 points and the Pacers improved the NBA’s only undefeated record and the best start in franchise history to 7-0 by beating the Brooklyn Nets 96-91 Saturday night.
David West added 18 points and hit the clinching free throws for the Pacers, who won their first six games in 1970-71, when they played in the ABA. They have the longest winning streak to open an NBA season since both the Lakers and New Orleans were 8-0 in 2010-11, according to STATS.
“I really don’t get too caught up in the historical value of it, other than we’re ahead of the race,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “We’re trying to get the 1 seed to put ourselves in the position come playoff time with the best chance to come out of the East.”
Roy Hibbert finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds, and Lance Stephenson also scored 15 points.
“We executed. That’s the maturity for this team,” George said. “Years ago we would have lost that game. We would have lost this game tonight just on not making shots and not executing and getting guys in spots to be aggressive at. But we’re growing as a team. We’re getting mature and we’re finding ways to win games.”
Deron Williams and Joe Johnson each had 17 points for the Nets, who fell to 2-4 and lost at home for the first time this season. Brook Lopez scored 16 and Paul Pierce had 15.
“We’re just learning to play together. We didn’t have everybody healthy for training camp and we’re all coming together and trying to win a championship and it doesn’t happen overnight,” said Williams, who added 10 assists but had a costly late turnover and committed what he called a “stupid” foul on George Hill’s 3-point attempt down the stretch.
“We’re not panicking, we know it’s going to come together, we’re confident that we can overcome these little struggles and we’re going to stay together no matter what’s happening on the outside.”
Brooklyn trailed by 10 midway through the fourth quarter, but got a 3-pointer from Pierce that bounced on the rim at least four times in a spurt that cut it to 94-91, and they got the ball back after George threw away a pass with 20 seconds left. But Johnson was just long on a 3-point attempt with about 11 seconds to go and West grabbed the rebound and hit both free throws after being fouled.
Vogel said the Pacers have made winning the East their priority after they lost Game 7 of the East finals on the road in Miami. The quick start has them well on their way.
“We’re just going out, playing the game,” George said. “We feel very prepped for the game. Everybody is dialed in. We’re not worried about keeping the streak alive, we’re just worried about going out there and playing our hardest and winning a ballgame.”
Indiana beat Chicago and Brooklyn, two of the top teams in the East, this week. The Pacers brought back their starting five and improved their bench, realizing that gives them an early advantage over teams like the Bulls and Nets that made changes since last season.
“Can’t take nothing away from Indiana. They’re a pretty good team right now and we’re still a team that’s kind of learning on the fly in game-time situations,” Johnson said.
The Pacers opened an early nine-point lead that the Nets wiped away thanks to a strong performance by their reserves. Brooklyn already had nine players score midway through the second quarter and took a 46-44 lead into halftime after Lopez’s jumper with 11 seconds left.
Indiana, which has trailed at halftime in six of its seven games, then outscored Brooklyn 28-21 in the third quarter.
The Nets were without reserve Andrei Kirilenko, who has battled back spasms this season and woke up hurting Saturday.
NOTES: Pacers president Larry Bird was in Terre Haute, Ind., on Saturday, where Indiana State unveiled a statue in his likeness before its season-opening game. Bird led the Sycamores to the 1979 NCAA championship game. … Indiana snapped a four-game losing streak against the Nets.
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