Mavs battle Pacers in quest for the postseason

The Indiana Pacers are inching toward a Central Division title, but on Thursday, they will try to improve on their road record when the visit the Dallas Mavericks.

The Pacers are five games clear of the Chicago Bulls for first in the Central Division. Indiana has clinched a playoff spot and is in a virtual tie with the New York Knicks for second in the Eastern Conference.

The Mavericks are fighting like crazy just to get into the postseason. They are 1 1/2 games behind the Los Angeles Lakers for the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference and have won three straight and nine of their last 12.

The Pacers were a meager 15-19 on the road this season until they visited the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night. Indiana, which leads the league in opponents' scoring, came out with a 100-91 victory against the Rockets, who are fractionally second to the Oklahoma City Thunder in scoring.

"No. 1 defensive team against the No. 1 offensive team and we got the better of them tonight," said Pacers coach Frank Vogel. "Our defense was sensational led by Paul George's matchup on James Harden. I thought he really did a strong job and our team did a strong job on him."

Harden netted 22 points, but that's below his scoring average. The 91 points the Rockets mustered was 15 points under their season average.

Roy Hibbert led the way for Indiana with 28 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks. Lance Stephenson and George Hill returned to the lineup for the Pacers and Stephenson had 21. George and Tyler Hansbrough, who is starting for the injured David West, both scored 16 points apiece.

The Mavs are coming off a huge win Tuesday over the Los Angeles Clippers, 109-102 in overtime. Thursday's contest will be the fifth of a six-game homestand where Dallas is 3-1.

On Tuesday, the Mavericks held the Clippers scoreless during a three-minute stretch of overtime and kept their playoff chances alive. Dallas has made the postseason 12 consecutive seasons.

Now the Mavs are just a game under .500 for the first time since Dec. 18 when they beat the Philadelphia 76ers.

"It feels like the last time we were one game under .500 was in November, so it's been a long time," said Nowitzki, incorrectly. "We've been fighting to get to this point, but honestly I feel like we're playing our best basketball. It's a good time to play your best basketball, so we'll see how far we can take it."

Nowitzki led the way against the Clips with 33 points. Vince Carter, Darren Collison, Brandan Wright, O.J. Mayo and Mike James all scored in double figures.

After the Mavs complete their homestand against the Chicago Bulls on Saturday, they go out west for four games. Four of their last five are in Big D.

The Pacers have won three of the last four against the Mavericks, including a 103-83 victory back in November. Indiana has lost 11 of its 13 in Dallas.