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Pacers-Thunder Preview


Russell Westbrook and Paul George did their best to steal the spotlight from Kobe Bryant's All-Star Game send-off.

The intensity figures to be raised when the two square off again in Friday night's matchup between the Oklahoma City Thunder and visiting Indiana Pacers.

Both players delivered electrifying performances in Sunday's memorable game in Toronto, with Westbrook claiming MVP honors for a second consecutive year by amassing 31 points and eight rebounds in the Western Conference's 196-173 win. George finished one point shy of Wilt Chamberlain's All-Star Game record with 41 for the East, further proving he's all the way back from a broken leg that limited him to six games last season.

George had a chance to set the mark but missed a 3-pointer in the final minute while drawing a double-team that included the Thunder's Kevin Durant, a tactic he light-heartedly brought up during Wednesday's practice.

"It's definitely going to be a little grudge," George joked. "Although Russ won (MVP), (Durant) took part in the double-team. So, I've got a little something for them."

Indiana (28-25) will likely need another monster effort from its franchise player in order to take down a Thunder team that was absolutely rolling before the break. Winners of seven of eight and 14 of 16, Oklahoma City has scored 106 points or more in 12 consecutive games and is averaging 117.7 while shooting 49.1 percent over its last seven.

The Thunder's two stars have unsurprisingly led the surge. Durant averaged 33.0 points and shot 43.3 percent from 3-point range over an eight-game stretch in which Westbrook nearly averaged a triple-double with 25.0 points, 11.8 assists and 9.8 rebounds.

Both had 23 points and Oklahoma City (40-14) shot 52.3 percent to earn its ninth straight home win with a 121-95 rout of New Orleans on Feb. 11.

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"It's a big win and it's great to have 40 wins but we know we have to keep the train rolling," guard Anthony Morrow said. "We have to continue to stay locked in."

The Thunder, the NBA's second-highest scoring team at 110.1 per game, added another floor-spacer to the mix at Thursday's trade deadline by acquiring veteran guard Randy Foye from Denver in exchange for point guard D.J. Augustin and seldom-used forward Steve Novak.

Indiana, sixth in the East but just 1 1/2 games ahead of ninth-place Detroit, looks to bounce back from a lackluster defensive showing in its final outing prior to the break. The Pacers had a two-game win streak snapped when Charlotte shot 51.7 percent and went 12 of 28 from 3 in a 117-95 win in Indianapolis on Feb. 10.

"We weren't able to get stops and that affected us on the offensive end,'' coach Frank Vogel said. ''We've got to figure this out, especially against a team where all five on the floor shoot 3s. You've got to win your home games against (contending) teams like this."

Vogel would also like to see his team regain its shooting stroke after the Pacers were a combined 8 of 45 on 3s in their last two games.

George has made 44.8 percent of his 3-pointers while averaging 26.0 points over the last four, but C.J. Miles remains in a prolonged slump. The swingman has shot 21.3 percent from beyond the arc while averaging 7.6 points during a 12-game stretch.

Miles compiled 51 points in last season's two meetings with the Thunder, including 30 with 10 rebounds in a 116-104 home win April 12 in which Westbrook recorded a career-high 54 points.

The Pacers have lost five straight in Oklahoma City.