INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — When LeBron James took a seat Wednesday night, the Indiana Pacers took a step forward.
With the four-time MVP resting, the Pacers got their offense on track, their defense in sync and proved they could finally close out a game. Paul George scored 29 points, C.J. Miles added 21 and Indiana made 16 3-pointers to pull away from Cleveland 123-109.
“Even without LeBron, they still have two All-Stars out there,” Solomon Hill said after scoring a season-high 15 points. “They’re going to shoot the ball, execute their plays, and it’s a team we could see in the playoffs. (Every win) is a building block.”
This one certainly helped.
By winning their third in a row, Indiana stayed a half-game ahead of eighth-place Detroit in the conference standings and pulled three games ahead of idle Chicago, which is trying to fight its way out of the No. 9 slot and into one of the final two playoff spots.
Without James, the Cavs didn’t look like the best team in the conference.
One night after making 18 3-pointers, they were a dreadful 8 of 29 beyond the arc and were outscored in the paint, on second-chance points and even on fast breaks.
Kyrie Irving led the Cavs with 26 points and six assists, while Kevin Love had 23 points and five rebounds.
Defensively, the Cavs allowed Indiana to shoot 56.3 percent from the field and make 16 of 31 3s.
The numbers didn’t matter to coach Tyronn Lue.
Cleveland is more concerned with making sure James is at full strength for another deep playoff run by limiting his minutes, and Lue resisted the temptation of playing James on the second night of back-to-back games just to get a little closer to clinching No. 1 seed.
The last time James sat was March 29, when the Cavs lost at Houston 106-100. Since James returned to Cleveland last season, the Cavs are just 4-14 without him.