Pacers aware of the big picture

Paul George says the key now is for the team to build off where they’re at. [Frank McGrath/PS&E]

It’s a new year and a new month, and with that Pacers head coach Nate McMillan has preached one important goal to the team: Have a winning record this month, striving for at least 10 wins.

Through 35 games, the Pacers (17-18) are on the inside edge of the playoff picture. After recording their second straight win, 117-104 over the Orlando Magic on Sunday, they are now in sixth and just two and half games out of fourth place.

[VIDEO: Frank Vogel on his second return to Indy and bringing family along]

Outside of spots one and two in the Eastern Conference — which, if they continue on course, will be filled by Cleveland and Toronto, respectively — the other spots look like they may not be locked up until the final week of the season, perhaps even the final days. The Pacers can’t let that happen again. We all remember the 2014-15 season, when by losing in Memphis they just missed out on postseason play.

After another double-digit win over Orlando and his former boss, Frank Vogel, McMillan candidly said he’s absolutely discussed the big picture with his team.

“We’ve already talked about it,” he answered quickly. “We’ve talked about our schedule, we talked about where we are, we talked about last month. We talked about the fact that the first three months of the seasons we haven’t had a winning month; 1-2 in October, 8-8 in November, 6-7 in December.

“So we haven’t had a winning month. We want to start 2017 with a winning month. One of our goals is to win 10-plus games each month, and we’ve got 13 [games] this month.

“Our guys are aware of where we are, what we’ve done, and what we need to do to try to get some separation in the east.”

Indiana narrowly avoided a season-long five-game losing streak last Friday when they edged out the Bulls in a matinee game. They carried that over to Sunday against a below-average Magic squad (15-20).

They’ve made strides on the defensive end, which once ranked 30th in the NBA, and that’s led to the offense. In their win over the Magic, they shot 50 percent and scored 117 points. They’re 6-0 at home when making at least half of their shots, and an outstanding 10-0 when pouring in at least 110 points.

“There’s a time when we go off,” McMillan explained about the offense, “and we get thirsty, as we call it, and we take quick shots when guys start to feel ‘I haven’t had a shot or a play called for me,’ and they’re looking to get involved in the game through the offensive end of the floor.

“We haven’t seen that in the last two games. The ball movement has been really good. 28 assists tonight, 25 in our last game. When you play that type of basketball, everybody will get their opportunity. I think it’s contagious, and I think it starts with the point guard.”

Teague had 12 points and nine rebounds in a win over the Magic. [Frank McGrath/PS&E]

Point guard Jeff Teague dished out a career-high 17 points Friday, and followed that up with nine more on Sunday. McMillan, along with his teammates were quick to praise him.

“He is really doing a good job of establishing that ball movement when he’s in the paint and, as we call it “setting the table” for the team, getting everyone involved,” said McMillan.

“The biggest thing is that we’re having fun now,” said Myles Turner, who has been special. Turner scored a game-high 23 points and grabbed 12 boards for his fifth double-double of the season. He had four in 60 games last season.

The Pacers are getting consistency from Turner, who has gotten comfortable in that starting five role and what is expected of him. It was his 14th straight game in double figures and he’s scored at least 20 in six of those 14 games.

“I think it’s starting with Jeff,” Turner continued. “In the last game 17 assists, in this game he had [nine]. He’s really establishing a tempo, establishing a way we play, and we’re all just following.”

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Paul George, who along with C.J. Miles and Turner, made a point to hug former coach Frank Vogel pregame, contributed 19 points, including three 3-pointers, plus five rebounds and three assists.

“I think now we’re finally using all of our weapons and everybody’s comfortable in their roles right now. And Jeff, credit our last three games to Jeff. That’s what we’ve felt he could do for us all season long. Again, he’s so good at getting in the paint and going coast to coast.

“And now, man, he’s almost throwing that ball blindly knowing where we’re at. We all just have a great feel for him right now.”

McMillan said the starting lineup will remain the same for now, with career starter Monta Ellis coming off the bench.

“We’re going to stick with it right now,” he said. Glenn [Robinson III] has done a real nice job.”

There’s real opportunity for Indiana right now. They play at 16-20 Detroit on Tuesday, then are back home against New York and the lowly Brooklyn Nets. Then, they have just one game the following week — in London against the 14-19 Denver Nuggets.

“His goal is for us to get 10 wins a month,” Turner repeated McMillan’s message. “That’s a great goal for us to shoot at.”

They’ve won seven of their last eight games at Bankers Life Fieldhouse and at 13-5, possess the second-best home record in the East. The key now is for their defense, their ball movement, energy and execution to travel, says Paul George. No more are they figuring things out.

“Now we’re sustaining it,” he added.

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