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Surging Pacers look to remain hot vs. ice-cold Nets

NEW YORK -- The Indiana Pacers finally are playing how many predicted they would.

Projected to be in the group of teams directly below the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference, the Pacers struggled to receive consistently good performances through the first two months.

The results are better for the Pacers recently and they can match a season high with a fifth straight victory Friday night when they visit the Brooklyn Nets.

"We're a veteran team playing well right now," Paul George said. "We're moving in the right direction and ready to take the next step. The next step is learning how to bury teams (like this) and put them away."

Through Dec. 28, the Pacers were 15-18 and on a four-game losing streak. Starting with a 111-101 win over Chicago on Dec. 30, Indiana is 11-4 in its last 15 games.

The win over Chicago began the Pacers' first-five winning streak, which included a 121-109 win over the Nets on Jan. 7. Then the Pacers dropped four of their next six games before starting their current four-game run.

The streak continued with a 98-88 win at Orlando Wednesday. The significance of the win was it marked the first time the Pacers won consecutive road games this season and it occurred on a night when George was held to a season-low eight points on 3-of-14 shooting.

Despite the unproductive night, George is averaging 23.9 points and shooting 46.5 percent in his last 15 games. Before his quietest night of the year, George scored 129 points in his previous four games.

"It's great for my teammates to have my back like that," George said. "They took the load off my shoulders and sealed the deal. That's going to help everyone's confidence."

Among those having George's back were C.J. Miles, Glenn Robinson III, Jeff Teague and Thaddeus Young. Miles scored 16 points and made four 3-pointers, Robinson added 14 without missing a field goal, Teague contributed 13 and nine assists and Young chipped in 12.

"Ninety-nine percent of the time, Paul is going to play really well. He always does," Miles said. "But in one of the few games he doesn't, we can step up and fill the void. This should help our confidence."

The Pacers have found their footing by playing 12 games against teams with losing records and face the team that is comfortably settled into the league's worst record.

Brooklyn is the only team with single-digit wins and 40 losses. The Nets are six games ahead of the Phoenix Suns in the race for the league's worst record.

The Nets stopped an 11-game losing streak by scoring 143 points in New Orleans two weeks ago. Since then, they are on a seven-game losing streak.

It is Brooklyn's third skid of at least seven games this season and it one where the offense is faltering recently. The Nets play at the league's highest pace but negate those things by ranking in the bottom of the league in field goal percentage, 3-point percentage and turnovers.

The Nets are averaging 101.1 points and shooting 44.1 percent from the field in their latest skid. Brooklyn also is shooting 32.5 percent from 3-point range and averaging 15.4 turnovers in this skid.

The latest loss was an ugly 95-90 defeat to the New York Knicks Wednesday night. It was Brooklyn's 10th straight home loss and the eighth defeat when the Nets held a double-digit lead at some point.

The Nets led for the first 42-plus minutes and held a team under 100 points for the first time since Dec. 14. It was not enough because the Nets were outscored 31-21, committed five turnovers and shot 29 percent in the fourth quarter.

"They picked up their intensity picked up their heat, picked up their heat on the ball," Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. "We turned it over, we didn't get the type of shots we wanted and then I thought they started getting second and third shots. It's tough to give any team in the NBA multiple shots at the rim."

After going 1-15 in January, the Nets used their 21st starting lineup. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson started for Trevor Booker and led the Nets with 16 points while Bojan Bogdanovic added 15 but Brook Lopez was held to 10.

"Sometimes, we get caught up in the heat of the moment and things go south," Nets forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson said. "We try to make the difficult pass. But if we control that better and stay within our game, we'll do better."

One of Brooklyn's wins occurred Oct. 28 in their home opener against the Pacers. Lopez scored 25 points in a 103-94 win while George was 8-of-22.

George did not play in Indiana's 116-97 home win on Nov. 25 and scored 26 in the Pacers' 121-109 victory on Jan. 5.

Updated February 2, 2017

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