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03/04/2013 12:18 AM EST
Pacers hold off late Bulls rally for 97-92 win
INDIANA 97, CHICAGO 92

By MICHAEL MAROT
AP Sports Writer

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- David West and George Hill came to Indiana
to make the Pacers title contenders.



Now they have Indiana rolling along toward the playoffs.



West matched his season-high by scoring 31 points, Hill finished
with 21 and the two accounted for the last nine points as the
Pacers held off a late Chicago charge for a 97-92 victory in
Sunday night's big Central Division showdown.



"He (West) leads our team in will," coach Frank Vogel said. "He
has a great will to do whatever is necessary to get the job done
and to get a `W' and that was clear tonight."



The win gives the Pacers a clear advantage in the division race,
too.



They extended their lead over second-place Chicago to four full
games and now own the tiebreaker, too, by virtue of sweeping
this season's first three meetings with Chicago. Indiana also
has won six of seven since the All-Star break - the only loss
coming when Roy Hibbert was suspended by the league for one
game. And it closes the season with 10 of its remaining 22 games
at home where the Pacers are 21-3 since early December.



That's not all.



The Pacers improved to 8-5 against the Eastern Conference's top
seeds, a mark that includes the perfect record against the
Bulls, a 2-0 record against Miami and a 2-1 record against the
New York Knicks. And the Bulls will only get one more crack at
Indiana before the playoffs start. That will come March 23 in
Chicago.



"It's a huge win. It's someone who was the best in our
division," Hill said, referring to the defending Central champs.
"They say to be the best, you have to beat the best, and today
we took that as a challenge to go out there and play hard."



The Pacers needed every ounce of effort and more to hold off the
hard-charging Bulls.



Marco Belinelli and Jimmy Butler each scored 20 points, Joakim
Noah had 14 points and 10 rebounds, and Luol Deng added 15
points.



But for the second time in a month, the Bulls showed up at
Indiana severely short-handed.



Both times they were missing point guard Kirk Hinrich, this time
with a right foot injury. They were also still missing Derrick
Rose, who continues to recover from last season's torn ACL in
his left knee. On Sunday, the Bulls were also playing without
guard Richard Hamilton, who didn't travel because of a lower
back injury, and forward Taj Gibson, who sat out with a left
knee injury.



The Pacers were only missing one player, Danny Granger, who
spent the second half on the bench after aggravating a left knee
injury that kept him out of Indiana's first 54 games.



There was no question about the difference. Indiana took control
early and Chicago spent the rest of the night playing catch-up,
unable to retake the lead after the 45 minutes.



Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said the injuries were no excuse.



"It's the NBA, we've got plenty in that locker room, we've got
to get the job done," he said.



The Pacers took advantage, building a 32-21 lead after one
quarter and still leading 47-40 at halftime. They didn't let the
Bulls get closer than four until Butler hit a 3-pointer with
31.1 seconds left in the third quarter, and Chicago couldn't tie
the score until Deng hit an 8-footer early in the fourth.



After Hill answered with five straight points for Indiana, the
Bulls charged back and tied the score again at 80 when Butler
made two free throws with 7:04 to play.



"We fought really hard and gave ourselves a chance," Deng said.
We've been there before many times, but it's tough. We just
didn't have it tonight."



The Pacers answered the second challenge by converting
back-to-back turnovers into four points.



Chicago did have one last gasp to send it to overtime, but
Belinelli missed a 3 with 7.8 seconds left, and after the
rebound went out of bounds off the Pacers, West came up with a
steal and made two free throws to seal the win.



"They were making 3s and they were able to make some clutch ones
tonight," West said. "But throughout the year, as our defense
has continued to grow, we know that we have confidence to make
plays in games and to get stops to win."



NOTES: Vogel picked up the 100th win in his coaching career. ...
Chicago rookie Marquis Teague scored two points in his second
trip to his hometown this season. ... Paul George finished with
10 points, 10 rebounds and six assists for his 20th
double-double of the season. ... This is the first time Chicago
has lost a season series to Indiana since 2003-04. ... Vogel
said Granger's absence in the second half was precautionary and
that he wasn't worried about any long-term impact to Granger's
knee.

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