INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – The Indiana Pacers have struggled at times to find offense late in games. Rookie Paul George provided it when it was needed on Wednesday night.
The 20-year-old forward scored a season-high 16 points for the Pacers in a 102-89 win over the Dallas Mavericks. He hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give Indiana an 83-71 lead with 10 minutes left, and the Pacers remained ahead by at least six points the rest of the way.
“Other nights, I would have been hesitant to shoot the ball,” he said. “Tonight, I just wanted to play with confidence. I know within myself, if I play with confidence, I’ll start getting into a flow, and that’s what happened tonight.”
Pacers coach Jim O’Brien began playing George recently to provide a spark, and it has worked.
“He is shooting with confidence, and he’s in and out defensively,” he said. “But by and large, I thought he was very good defensively tonight. He can shoot it. He is going to be a terrific basketball player.”
The Pacers squandered a 15-point lead in the second half of their previous home game by shooting 1 for 15 in the fourth quarter of a loss to San Antonio. They shot 8 for 19 in the fourth against Dallas a night after winning at Philadelphia.
The Pacers hadn’t won consecutive games since Nov. 28 against the Los Angeles Lakers and Nov. 30 against Sacramento.
“They’re two quality back-to-back wins for our team,” O’Brien said. “I’m very proud of the intensity and the focus our guys put forth the past two games.”
Brandon Rush scored eight of his 20 points in the fourth quarter and Danny Granger and Darren Collison both scored 17 for the Pacers.
Jason Terry scored 18 points and Tyson Chandler had 13 points, nine rebounds and three blocks for the Mavericks in a disappointing return to Conseco Fieldhouse for former Pacers coach Rick Carlisle.
Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki missed his eighth straight game with a sprained right knee. The Mavericks entered the night with the second-best record in the Western Conference, but dropped to 2-6 without Nowitzki.
“I’m not answering any Dirk questions,” Carlisle said. “We don’t have Dirk, so it’s not a topic that’s worth discussion. We’ve got to win with the guys we have.”
Dallas also is playing without Caron Butler, who recently had surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right knee, likely sidelining him for the rest of the season.
The teams were tied at 52 at halftime, but Indiana’s Tyler Hansbrough made back-to-back mid-range jumpers in the third quarter to give the Pacers a 67-62 lead midway through the period.
Indiana pushed its lead to 74-66 on a 3-pointer by Granger. The Pacers took a 77-69 lead into the fourth quarter, and Dallas didn’t have the offense to make up the deficit without Nowitzki.
“For us, the key word is precise,” Carlisle said. “We just have to be so precise with everything we do. Everything that happens, every possession, is precious on both ends of the floor. We just have to keep pushing.”
Point guard Jason Kidd said the Mavericks need to remain focused and play better without Nowitzki.
“We’re all professionals,” he said. “We’re a veteran ballclub. There’s no one panicking, we’ve just got to play until he comes back. The bigger picture is it will just make us a better team when he does get back because we’re getting a lot of shots that are contested, and when he’s on the floor, we get wide-open looks.”
Carlisle saw firsthand how the Pacers have changed since he was fired after the 2006-07 season.
“Granger’s an All-Star, their bigs are really good and solid and they are going to get better, and their wing players – they ripped us tonight,” he said. “And their point guards are good, too.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)