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Pacers, Rockets combine for surprise 'over'

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Paul George made everything look easy Friday night.

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Scoring, rebound, playing defense, even winning seems second-nature to the Pacers' budding star these days.

George finished with 31 points, and David West added 20 points and 11 rebounds, helping Central Division-leading Indiana pull away from struggling Houston 105-95.

``My guys found me, so I just had to knock shots down,'' George said. ``It felt good, it's easy to start in a flow when you get some good looks early on and that was the case tonight.''

George has been the key figure in Indiana's incredible turnaround. The Pacers (25-16) have rebounded from a sluggish start by going 15-5 over the last 20 games, pulling even in the win column with the New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference and winning 11 straight at home - their longest since winning 14 in a row in 2002-03.

Plus, George continued to make his case for being on the East's All-Star roster by going 8-of-11 from the field and knocking down five 3-pointers in the first half, and then playing a second half in which he looked content to make all the right moves regardless of his scoring chances.

The result: George finished 11 of 19 from the field, 7 of 10 from 3-point range, had six rebounds, five steals, three assists and one block in a game the Pacers dictated almost from start to finish. It was George's third 30-point game of the season.

And he did all that on a night the short-handed Pacers played without Danny Granger (left knee), lost backup swingman Gerald Green before the game with food poisoning and lost backup center Ian Mahinmi after the first half with a stomach ailment.

His teammates are not surprised.

``He (George) has been putting in a lot of work before practice, after practice, before games, getting up a lot of shots, so we keep going to him and he's been playing real well,'' All-Star center Roy Hibbert said. ``Right now, Paul's been carrying this team and David's been carrying this team, so they're doing a pretty good job.''

But Indiana's defense has been even better.

The Pacers came into the game as the only NBA team allowing fewer than 90 points per game. They also led the league in defensive field goal percentage, and now Houston (21-20) understands why.

While Omer Asik scored a career-high 22 points and finished with 11 rebounds, the Pacers held James Harden to 17 points on 5-of-19 shooting. Harden, who was defended most of the night by George, had a career-best streak of 22 straight games with 20 or more points end on the same night the NBA's second-best scoring team finished 10 points below it average and shot just 41.0 percent from the field.

Carlos Delfino also scored 17 points for the Rockets, who have lost six straight overall and five in a row on the road.

``We can get things going for a while but we have a period where we struggle,'' coach Kevin McHale said. ``And we're constantly going through a period in the first half where we have a slew of turnovers and then it's a battle to get back and fight and get over the hump.''

McHale blamed most of Houston's recent problems on fatigue.

But on Friday, George was a far bigger factor in Houston's struggles.

His early scoring flurry helped the Pacers build a 31-18 lead after the first quarter. His fifth 3-pointer gave him 23 first-half points and allowed Indiana to close out the first half with a 59-52 halftime lead.

Houston charged back quickly in the third quarter, closing to 61-58 on a 10-foot jumper from Asik with 9:01 left in the third.

Then Indiana answered with four straight points and followed that spurt with a 10-0 run thanks in part of three of George's steals. That made it 73-61.

The Pacers closed out the third quarter with a 10-4 spurt that included another 3 from George that gave Indiana an 83-69 lead.

``They were able to get their hands in the passing lanes and disrupt what we were trying to do,'' Jeremy Lin said after scoring 10 points. ``We were never able to build a lot of momentum at any point in the game.''

Houston never got closer than seven the rest of the way.

``Paul George, what can you say?'' Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. ``I've never really seen a defender like Paul. He's dominating, he was dominant tonight.''

Notes: Harden also had an NBA-best streak of 20 straight games leading his team in scoring end Friday. ... Vogel told reporters before the game that Green would dress and might play, but the team sent him home before tip-off when it became clear he was too ill. ... The Pacers honored the Marian University football team during the first quarter of Friday night's game. Marian won its first NAIA national championship last month. ... IndyCar driver Graham Rahal attended the game.

AP NEWS
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