INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -Last season, it took the Indiana Pacers until the new year to reach double-digit wins.
This time, they made it before Christmas
Brandon Rush scored a season-high 26 points, Danny Granger had 21 and the Pacers put seven players in double figures in a 124-100 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Monday night.
``The good thing is, the guys in the locker room are not happy being 10-9,' Indiana coach Jim O'Brien said. ``It's good to have a winning record, but I think if you ask anyone in a Pacers uniform, if we had done the things that we did tonight on a regular basis, it would be a lot better than a game over .500. But that's a learning experience.'
The Pacers' improvement is based on a developing young core of players - Rush, Darren Collison and Roy Hibbert.
Rush, a reserve, was 10 for 18 from the field, including 6 for 8 from 3-point range. He was inconsistent his first two years in the league, but he has caught team president Larry Bird's attention this season.
``Larry Bird said to him a couple weeks ago, 'You're playing like the guy I thought I drafted,'' O'Brien said. ``He's playing great. He's playing really strong defense and scoring off the dribble.'
Collison, a second-year guard the Pacers acquired in an offseason trade, had 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting. Hibbert, a third-year center, had 13 points, six rebounds, six assists and two blocks.
As the chemistry builds and the young players develop, O'Brien's expectations grow.
``Even though they're familiar faces to our fans, they're still inexperienced,' he said. ``They're starting to click. If they can continue to click in all phases then we'll be a playoff team.'
Granger also contributed nine rebounds and five assists in the Pacers' second-highest scoring effort of the season.
Indiana was disappointed with losses to Utah and Phoenix at the end of a four-game road trip and responded by shooting 55 percent from the field, including a 13-for-26 effort from behind the arc.
Apparently, road wins against the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento weren't good enough.
``We thought we should have went 3-1 on the West Coast,' Granger said. ``We wanted to get this one and get back on the winning track. We pretty much won the game from the start.'
Granger, Indiana's leading scorer for the season, made just eight of 29 shots combined against Utah and Phoenix, but went 9 for 16 against Toronto.
``I'm not worried about where my shot is, it's always going to be there,' Granger said. ``It's just a matter of what kind of shots I'm taking. I have to mix up how many 3s I'm taking, when I'm attacking, and different things like that.'
Jose Calderon scored 21 points and Amir Johnson added 15 for the Raptors. Andrea Bargnani, who entered the game averaging 20.7 points, was held to 12 on 5-for-11 shooting.
``We have to come with more energy,' Bargnani said. ``We have to come more prepared, especially in the first and second quarters. It seems like we are just watching the other team play and we are doing nothing.'
Toronto had won six of nine, including victories over Boston and Oklahoma City.
``We have to do it every day,' Calderon said. ``We have to play as a team every night for 48 minutes.'
The Pacers stretched their lead to 28 early in the third quarter before the Raptors made a run to close to 78-62, leading to an Indiana timeout. The Raptors trailed by 15 before Indiana went on a 7-0 run, including 3-pointers by Rush and James Posey.
The statistic that pleased O'Brien the most was the 33 assists.
``There's going to be games that we shoot the lights out, and that's going to be very bad news for our opponents when we shoot as well as we did tonight,' he said. ``When we make the extra pass, we tend to shoot the basketball better.'
The Pacers built a 42-21 lead early in the second quarter. Bargnani didn't score until 52 seconds remained in the first half. By then, the Raptors trailed 64-42.
NOTES: Toronto F Peja Stojakovic, a former Pacer, was not with the team because of a swollen left knee. ... Indiana F Tyler Hansbrough didn't play until 6:29 remained. At one point, fans chanted, ``We want Tyler.' He finished with four points in six minutes. ... Indiana's reserves scored 50 points.
The Associated Press News Service
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