Pacers string together wins, clicking at right time

No need to relay to the Pacers how long it’s been since they won back-to-back games. They were well-aware of the dry spell. Two months.

The consistently inconsistent Pacers finally strung together victories for the first time in two months. That was on the end of their best stretch of the season, back when they won seven consecutive games capped off by a 93-90 win over MVP candidate Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“We know consistency is something that we need to improve on,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan said after his team handled the Milwaukee Bucks 104-89 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “And most of those losses have come on the road. We know exactly what we need to do on this road trip.”

There’s not much time for this team to reflect on the past, even though they know games lost months ago could haunt them next week at the conclusion of the regular season. More on that shortly.

Against a Bucks (40-39) team — also a division opponent — that beat them by an average of 12 points in their first three meetings this season, the Pacers won every quarter and never trailed in the second half. And it didn’t even take an “amazing” performance from Paul George to earn win number 39 of the season.

“As much as I enjoy being amazing,” George joked, “I’ll take a couple great night. At this point we need everybody. It’s only going to help us going down the stretch if everybody is feeling involved and everybody knows they play a big role in our success.”

Six Pacers reached double figures in this one, four starters and two off the bench. They forced 21 turnovers leading to 29 points.

“We’re just playing within the flow of the offense, playing and feeding off one another and getting after it on the defensive end,” added Thad Young, who recorded a triple-double (12 points, 11 rebounds).

On Thursday night, Kevin Seraphin was the first Indiana player off the bench and he turned in his best performance in two months. Sensing a theme here?

Because of the trouble they had with Greg Monroe and the Bucks’ bigs in the previous three meetings, coach McMillan wanted to try something different, so he played Seraphin early and for almost 23 minutes.

Seraphin contributed 11 points and seven rebounds — his fifth double-figure night of the season — in a game that the Pacers won the rebounding battle and outscored the Bucks, losers of three in a row, in the paint by six points.

Aaron Brooks, who had 10 points, played well enough to earn additional playing time. He fit right in beside Lance Stephenson in the second unit. (It was Stephenson’s second home game back in Indiana and once again he received a standing ovation by much of the crowd.)

Stephenson (nine points) does a great job pushing the ball — he’s a magnet to it, McMillan said — and his presence kept there from being a drop-off when the second unit hit the floor.

“I think what’s been real helpful is with Lance in that second unit, now we have two groups that are putting points on the board,” George said. “It’s not a case of when the first unit goes out and second unit comes, we’re flat. I think Lance has done a really good job of fixing that second unit up.”

[Stephenson appeals technical foul in win over Raptors]

McMillan has been using a nine-man rotation with Glenn Robinson III still sidelined with a strained calf. The team isn’t sure if he’ll be back before the end of the regular season seeing that he has yet to return to on-court work.

Led by Stephenson, the Pacers appear to be playing more confidently. They’ve said so, too, but we’ve heard that before.

“I think it’s that sense of urgency we’ve been taking about, I think it’s finally starting to hit home,” George said. “We need to win all of these games to have a chance to play much further than April. We’re locked in right now, but we’ve been saying that after picking up home wins. We got to have this same talk and this same feeling going on the road.”

Jeff Teague had 15 points, 7 rebounds in win over Milwaukee. [Frank McGrath/PS&E]

While they have the fourth-best home record in the Eastern Conference (28-12), their record on the road ranks 12th (11-28). Losing eight in a row (!!!), they’re last road win was back on March 5th in Atlanta, 97-96. And they needed a last-second 3-pointer from Glenn Robinson III to record the win.

“I think we know we can win here [at home],” Jeff Teague said recently. “I think we feel like we’re going to win every time we step on the floor here. Going in with that mindset, we tend to play well. Out on the road, I don’t know if we have the same mindset, but we need to.”

At 39-40, the Pacers have the same record as the Miami Heat. However, because they lose the tiebreaker, the Pacers are currently slotted in the eighth and final playoff spot. This Bucks team is a game in front, in sixth.

Indiana’s keeping close tabs on the standings, as you’d expect, and on the remaining schedules.

“We know the end of the schedule,” said Young, and then he listed off opponents remaining for the Heat. “Hopefully, they can drop a couple of those game and we can continue to win.”

The Pacers put back-to-back games behind them on March 29th. They are in Orlando on Saturday, Philadelphia on Monday, and then return home for the regular-season finale against 40-38 Atlanta.

“We got to finish the job, carry out the mission of picking up wins that we should get,” George stressed.

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