December 27, 2014

Playing significantly inferior teams has helped the Indiana Pacers in their battle at the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, and they face another one Saturday night.

Yet, the woeful Brooklyn Nets just showed they're capable of beating any team in the East, and there's a chance the Pacers will play them without Paul George.

This is the only game on the road of Indiana's final nine in March, part of an easy remaining schedule for a team trying to claim a playoff berth. The Pacers (38-33) are seventh in the East but have Detroit and Chicago within two games of them. Only three of their final 11 games come against teams with winning records, and they've won nine straight against sub-.500 opponents.

They lost close games to division leaders Toronto and Oklahoma City last week before taking advantage of this week's matchups with league-worst Philadelphia and a New Orleans team missing its top six scorers. Still, Indiana led by only four in the final minute of that eventual 92-84 victory over the last-place Pelicans.

"A win is a win right now," point guard Ty Lawson said. "We'll get the wins any way we can get them. We're in a playoff run trying to move up in the standings, so we've got to win any way we can."

Indiana got a scare when George left in the third quarter with a bruised right leg, the same one he broke in August 2014. He's considered day to day, though the Pacers might be cautious with their leading scorer Saturday - especially with another game 24 hours later against Houston.

"I just got kneed," George said. "Nothing too serious, hopefully."

Indiana has won six straight over the Nets when George plays, including two this season. Brooklyn (20-51) won two of three meetings last season when he was sidelined.

The Nets own the second-worst record in the East but stunned conference-leading Cleveland 104-95 on Thursday after limiting the Cavaliers to 12 fourth-quarter points - none by LeBron James.

"Our intensity was up, we had a lot more bounce on the court than we normally have," interim coach Tony Brown told the team's official website.

One player providing a spark was third-year guard Shane Larkin, who had 16 points and seven assists in his first start since early January. Larkin will remain a starter for the rest of the season as the Nets evaluate their younger talent.

"I just want to take advantage of the opportunity," Larkin said.

He won't be the only Brooklyn player getting one. Brown said he would sit veterans Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young for some games so younger players could get more time.

Since the beginning of 2012, the Nets are 1-6 against Indiana when Lopez doesn't play. He's averaged 22.3 points in the past four meetings.

The Pacers have a youngster of their own making an impact. Myles Turner had 24 points and a career-high 16 rebounds Thursday on his 20th birthday. The 6-foot-11 forward also blocked three shots for the second consecutive game.

''Turner is becoming a big-time threat,'' coach Frank Vogel said. ''He is improving and is getting a lot better defensively. We're asking him to guard a lot of different people."

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