Originally written November 15, 2013 on Fox Sports Wisconsin:
When Paul George looked up at the scoreboard Monday nightand realized Lance Stephenson was closing in on a triple-double, he got rightto work.As George went on another scoring binge to help the Pacerspull away from Memphis, he wanted Stephenson to share the spotlight. So Georgequickly made a 20-foot jumper with 10:56 left in the game, giving Stephensonhis 10th assist, then jogged over to his teammate and gave him a low-five.It's hardly an unprecedented sight around the NBA, but in aleague that has been built on big names, individual numbers and 1-on-1matchups, George's reaction was emblematic of what the 8-0 Pacers have become -a team that celebrates everyone's accomplishments."I think it's different from most of the teams I'vebeen around, other than the last two or three years," said coach FrankVogel, who has spent 17 seasons working in the NBA. "I think this is themost selfless team I've been part of."Relying on a perfect mix of productivity, stability andcamaraderie, the league's last unbeaten team hosts the short-handed andstruggling Milwaukee Bucks on Friday night.Four of Indiana's five starters are averaging in doublefigures, led by George (24.9 points) and Stephenson (14.3). Fans have alreadybeen serenading George with chants of "MVP! MVP!", and Stephenson hasmade no secret he wants to become the next Indiana player to earn the league'sMost Improved Player Award. George won it last season.Center Roy Hibbert is on the cusp of joining thedouble-digit club, averaging 9.9 points, but he's more excited about leadingNBA in blocks (4.4). His goal is to win the league's Defensive Player of theYear Award.Power forward David West, Indiana's inspirational leader,might have gotten more money in free agency last summer but decided to stickaround to make a title run with his pals. And guard George Hill is continuingto develop his ball-handling skills as he becomes a more consistent scorer.Add all of that to a vastly improved bench that is onlygoing to get deeper when Danny Granger returns from a strained left calf,perhaps as early as next week, plus the league's No. 1 defense, and it'sobvious why the Pacers could become the first NBA team to go 9-0 since the2002-03 Mavericks, according to STATS. They play together."I think we just built that (chemistry) over theyears," George said Wednesday following a rare early season practice."I think we always wanted to pull for one another before, but we didn'tknow how to do it. As the years went on and our core stayed together, it'shelped. Now, when guys come in, they understand how tight we are and how theywill fit in."On Monday, Indiana completed a five-game sweep in sevendays, something Vogel noted he had never before experienced. The Pacers playanother back-to-back this weekend, following Friday's game with Saturday's roadmatchup against Chicago and a hobbled Derrick Rose (hamstring).The quick start, the best in franchise history, has alreadygiven the Pacers a leg up. They lead the 3-3 Bulls, who they beat last week, byfour games and have a three-game cushion over the Heat.Those numbers don't mean much to these Pacers."We're really not playing for the streak or beingundefeated," George said. "We just want to win every night."Hibbert doesn't believe Indiana's approach is all thatdifferent from the rest of the NBA. He points out that the Heat's trio of LeBronJames, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh likes to celebrate when others play well andthat other teams do the same thing.The Pacers have just taken it to a different level."We want to see our teammates do well, we want them toeat," Hibbert said.While Indiana has been powered by its depth, the banged-upBucks (2-5) dropped their third straight Wednesday, 94-91 at Orlando. Milwaukeeplayed the entire game without injured starters Brandon Knight and ZazaPachulia as well as top reserve Gary Neal, and it played the last two minuteswithout starter Caron Butler, who injured his shoulder and didn't return afterscoring 20 points."We did wear down, you could tell," coach LarryDrew said. "When you're missing seven guys, and you come in and give thatkind of effort, me as a coach, I have to be grateful. As short-handed as wewere, we still put ourselves in great position. We just didn't make plays downthe stretch."O.J. Mayo led the Bucks with 25 points, while KhrisMiddleton added 19 and eight rebounds.Indiana has won seven of the past nine meetings withMilwaukee. The Pacers took the last two in 2012-13, winning the latest 102-78on March 22 after a 95-80 victory Jan. 5.
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