INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Entering the final month of the regular season, Paul George and the Indiana Pacers find themselves in the thick of a tight playoff race.
Finding consistency over the final 16 games will be the difference between a postseason berth and a disappointing end to a season of high expectations.
On Sunday against Miami, Indiana got a much-needed home win over a Heat team that’s been on a furious ascent up the Eastern Conference standings.
Paul George scored a team-high 28 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to lead the Pacers to a 102-98 home win Sunday over Miami, which had won 21 of its previous 25 games.
“We needed this win,” George said. “We need all the wins we can get down the stretch.”
The Pacers (34-32) retain their spot as the conference’s sixth seed with the win, but the Heat (32-35) made Indiana earn Sunday’s win.
With George struggling a bit in the fourth quarter, Jeff Teague and Myles Turner gave Indiana the edge late. Nursing a 97-96 lead with less than two minutes to go, Teague recorded a timely – and unexpected – block of Heat center Hassan Whiteside.
With Whiteside having one of his more complete games of the season, Teague swatted Whiteside from behind on a spin to the basket, leading to two free throws by Turner on Indiana’s next possession.
Turner’s foul shots put the Pacers up 99-96 with 1:38 to go, and Turner’s dunk off his own miss on Indiana’s next possession provided the Pacers the cushion they needed to fend off the Heat’s late surge.
“It was a big play,” George said of Turner’s rebound-dunk. “He finished (the possession) strong and we needed that.”
After falling behind 93-85 with 6:09 to go and having trailed for 3 1/2 quarters, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra called timeout. Miami (32-35) fought back and took the lead on Dion Waiters’ jumper with 3:24 left.
Indiana answered with a 6-0 run to put the game out of reach and brought an end to Miami’s four-game win streak.
Spoelstra was disappointed with the loss after seeing his team grab a late lead. He said the Heat will have to close games out better in the final month to get into the playoffs.
“Games like this are significant,” Spoelstra said. “It’s going to come with frustrations, anger, joy — all of the above. That what we’re looking forward to in the next month. Some games are going to come down to the last three minutes.”
Turner finished with 15 points for Indiana. Teague had 12 points, five rebounds and four assists.
Whiteside led the Heat with 26 points and 21 rebounds. Waiters finished with 20 points and eight rebounds.
“We would have loved to come in here and steal this one,” Whiteside said. “But sometimes things don’t go your way.”
On Sunday, Hassan Whiteside tied his career high with 10 offensive rebounds. He has posted a double-double in nine straight games. Sunday’s 26 points, 21 rebounds performance was Whiteside’s fifth 20/20 game this season. Two of those have come against the Pacers.
HERE AND THERE
Having alternated wins and losses over the past 10 games, the Pacers must find consistency in the final month. Ten of their final 16 games come against teams who held playoff positions entering Sunday’s contests. Just 1 1/2 games separated sixth-place Indiana from eighth-place Milwaukee on Sunday, a razor-thin margin this late in the season.
Heat: Had won the previous two matchups against Indiana. … Since starting a 12-game win streak on Jan. 17, Miami is 21-5. … In his 50th start of the season on Sunday, Rodney McGruder now has the second-most starts by a Heat rookie since Mario Chalmers started all 82 games in 2008-09. … Waiters has scored at least 17 points in nine straight games. … Goran Dragic did not play after injuring an eye in Saturday’s win over Toronto.
Indiana: The Pacers have alternated wins and losses for the past 10 games. … With 16 games left in the regular season, Indiana plays eight at home, including five of its next eight overall. … Ten of the Pacers’ remaining 16 opponents held playoff positions entering Sunday’s games. … Indiana is 17-4 when holding teams under 100 points. … George is averaging 26.5 points over the last six games. … Indiana is 23-10 at home this season. … The Pacers have now won 10 straight regular-season home games over Miami.
Heat: Hosts New Orleans on Wednesday in the first game of a five-game homestand. Miami lost its first matchup against the Pelicans 91-87 on the road on Dec. 23.
Pacers: Play on Tuesday at New York in its final regular-season matchup against the Knicks. The Pacers have dropped two of their three games against New York this season.
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