Pacers face stiff challenge in Houston

The Indiana Pacers are inching toward a Central Division title, but will have a tough test Wednesday night when they travel to Houston to face the Rockets.

The Pacers own a five-game lead over the Chicago Bulls for the Central crown. They've won four of their last five, with the only loss, a road one to those same Bulls.

Indiana begins a four-game road trip on Wednesday that will see them go to Houston, Dallas, Phoenix and Los Angeles to play the Clippers.

On Monday, the Pacers held off a furious rally by the Atlanta Hawks' bench in the fourth quarter to earn a 100-94 home victory. That moved their record at Bankers Life Fieldhouse to 29-8.

With starters David West, George Hill and Lance Stephenson all sidelined with injuries, the Pacers built a 22-point lead after three quarters. Atlanta coach Larry Drew played all reserves and cut the deficit to four, but the Pacers held on late to win.

"Just because we built a lead doesn't mean we get to relax," said Roy Hibbert. "I think that's what happened. I would feel great if we had won by 20-plus, at least 15-plus. It can't be what happened because it was a downhill slope from there. I think that's unacceptable."

Gerald Green iced the win with an ill-advised 3-pointer late in the game and led the Pacers with 19 points. Hibbert added 17 and four other Indiana players scored in double figures.

The Rockets have won three straight and five of their last six as they make their playoff push. Houston is seventh in the Western Conference, but trails the Golden State Warriors by just a game for sixth.

On Sunday, the Rockets picked up a huge win when they hung on to beat the San Antonio Spurs. James Harden made a jumper with 4.5 seconds left on the clock to give Houston the victory.

"(Assistant) Coach Kelvin Sampson just told me to take what is available, so I came off (and) the pull up was there," said Harden. "Tim Duncan was playing back the majority of the game, great shot blocker. So the shot was there. The shot that was there was the pull-up and I had confidence to go out there and shoot it."

During this three-game winning streak, the Rockets are playing defense. They are ranked 28th in opponents' scoring, but have held their last three opponents under 100 points.

"There's no question in my mind we're getting better defensively, that's something that we had to do," said head coach Kevin McHale.

The Pacers have won six of the last eight against the Rockets and have taken three of their last four in Houston.