With a third straight postseason appearance locked up, next on the agenda for the playoff-bound Indiana Pacers is a Central Division title.
The Pacers will get to work Friday in a showdown with the division-rival Milwaukee Bucks at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. They haven't captured a Central championship since 2003-04 and have a seemingly comfortable lead over the Chicago Bulls in the division standings.
Second in the East behind the surging Miami Heat, the Pacers are coming off Tuesday's 95-73 victory over the Orlando Magic and were led by All-Star Paul George's 19 points. Tyler Hansbrough recorded a double-double with 14 points and 14 rebounds, while George Hill also scored 14 points for the weary Pacers, who have won two in a row since losing two straight and three of four games.
"After four games in five nights, to beat a team by 22 points, a team that has been playing well, is a really, really good effort by our guys," said Pacers coach Frank Vogel. "When you play a fourth game in five nights, you need somebody like Tyler Hansbrough to bring the energy he brought tonight."
Indiana clinched a playoff berth when the Philadelphia 76ers lost to the Los Angeles Clippers Wednesday night. Indiana is the fourth team to punch its ticket to the postseason, joining Miami, San Antonio and Oklahoma City, and is one game ahead of New York and two clear of Brooklyn.
"Once the playoffs are set, the regular-season records are irrelevant," Vogel said before Tuesday's win over Orlando. "We understand we're highly unlikely to catch (Miami) in the regular-season so we're just trying to get the highest seed possible and then whatever matchup we have in the first round, we got to win that series. Anything can happen come playoff time."
The Pacers are 27-8 at home and will play five of six games on the road after entertaining Milwaukee. In injury news for Indy, power forward David West (back) has missed two straight games and is questionable Friday. Hansbrough is probable with an abdominal issue.
Milwaukee is fighting for its playoff life and sits eighth in the East -- two games behind the Boston Celtics.
The Bucks have lost four of six games since winning six of seven games, and opened a quick road trip with Wednesday's 98-90 loss at Atlanta. Larry Sanders collected 19 points, 14 boards and four blocks, while Brandon Jennings scored 19 of his 21 points in the second half in defeat.
"We dug ourselves a hole...credit their defense," Bucks coach Jim Boylan said.
Boylan was referring to the 59-41 difference in the middle quarters.
J.J. Redick had 18 points off the bench and Milwaukee's leading scorer, Monta Ellis, was held to five points after scoring 60 in the last two games combined.
After Milwaukee visits the Pacers, it will play five of six at home. The Bucks have lost two in a row on the road and are 16-17 away from the Bradley Center.
On the injury front for the Bucks, forward Ersan Ilyasova is doubtful Friday against Indiana with a sore back/hip.
Milwaukee is 2-1 against the Pacers this season, but has lost three in a row and 12 of the last 15 trips to Indianapolis.