INDIANAPOLIS — If the Indiana Pacers continue on their current path, they'll have a chance to finish the postseason as the NBA's version of the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks: a dominant defensive team that flattens almost everything in its path.
The Pacers trampled the Orlando Magic on Monday night.
The Magic shot just 28 percent in the second half and fell to the Pacers 98-79 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
"They relied on their defense tonight, which is what championship-caliber teams do," Magic swingman Arron Afflalo said.
Afflalo understands that better than anyone else on Orlando's roster. He played some of his best basketball of the season during the first half — scoring 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting — but he managed just two points the rest of the way.
Afflalo finished with a game-high 20 points. But with Afflalo struggling in the second half and Jameer Nelson back home in Central Florida nursing a sore left knee, the Magic lacked the firepower and depth to keep pace with the Pacers.
Paul George, Indiana's MVP candidate, spent most of the night guarding Afflalo. George is 6-feet-9 and possesses superb speed and jumping ability. So Afflalo entered the game hesitant to post up George or to try to beat George off the dribble. Instead, Afflalo focused on his catch-and-shoot opportunities.
In the second half, however, the Pacers (37-10) cut down Afflalo's space to operate, and Afflalo lost his rhythm.
"Defensively," Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said, "I think overall as a unit, they really showed why they have the No. 1 defense in the league."
The Magic (13-37) haven't won a road game yet in 2014.
The defeat extended their road losing streak to 12 games, and they dropped to a league-worst 3-23 on the road.
"I don't know the reason for it," center Nik Vucevic said.
Monday's loss ruined a decent defensive effort. Although five Indiana players scored in double figures, the Pacers made just 42 percent of their shots.
"I think it shows that with a motivated effort by us, we can guard," Vaughn said. "But they sure do make it tough to score."
And that's the problem: The Pacers' superior height on the interior and George's and Lance Stephenson's athleticism on the wings enable them to smother opponents.
As Pacers coach Frank Vogel watched the Seahawks clobber the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII, Vogel saw similarities between the defense-minded Seahawks and his own team.
On Monday, less than 24 hours later, Vogel's players proved him correct.
"Afflalo got off in the first half, and we challenged all our guys — not just the ones guarding him — to get after him in the second half," Vogel said.
Rookie Victor Oladipo, starting at point guard in Nelson's place, struggled with his shot, finishing with just six points on 2-of-11 shooting. But Oladipo tied a career high by distributing 11 assists while he made just four turnovers.
"They just do a great job of making us shoot tough shots," Oladipo said. "We missed a lot of shots we normally make today."
The Magic cut the Pacers' lead to 60-58 midway through the third quarter, but Indiana closed out the quarter on a 15-5 run.
Stephenson ignited the run with a three-point play, and he finished with 15 points, 12 rebounds and five assists.
The Pacers supplemented that offensive spurt with superb defense.
"You've got to be patient, be sure you work them," Vucevic said.
"Every defense at some point can break down. I thought we did that well for most of the game. At the end of the third quarter and early on in the fourth quarter, when they made that run, we really didn't respond well. Then they controlled the game until the end."
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