INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana’s Roy Hibbert had the perfect knockout combination Friday night.
On offense, he made all but two shots. On defense, he protected the rim. At the free-throw line, he couldn’t miss and no matter what the Bucks tried to stop the former All-Star center, nothing worked.
Hibbert finished with season-highs of 24 points and eight blocks and added 10 rebounds to lead unbeaten Indiana past Milwaukee 104-77 — the Pacers’ most lopsided rout in a 9-0 start.
“We have expectations and we want to win,” Hibbert said. “We want to play deep, deep into the playoffs. You gain confidence with your teammates when we’re all on the same page and we all have one goal. Some guys on this team before were just trying to get a paycheck and go home and then chilling on the beach and sip mojitos or something like that. That’s not us. “
Hibbert was referring to the teams he played on when he first arrived in Indy.
There’s no doubt that philosophy has changed. On Friday, the Pacers followed the same blue-collar script they’ve used to win their first nine.
Milwaukee had a season-low point total, finished well below its season average of 93.7 points, and shot just 34.1 percent against the league’s No. 1 defense. It’s the fourth time Indiana has held an opponent to 80 or fewer points this season and it’s the second time this week.
Now, after becoming the first team in the league to start 9-0 since Dallas in 2002-03, Indiana has a chance to reach even more milestones.
The defending Central Division champs head to Chicago on Saturday with a chance to become the 14th team in league history to go 10-0 and they can break the longest winning streak in the franchise’s NBA history. Indiana also won nine straight from Nov. 2-22 in 2002.
Another win also would put it on the precipice of the longest winning streak in Pacers history (11), which stretches all the way back to 1972-73, when they were still in the ABA.
About the only bad move coach Frank Vogel made Friday was pulling Hibbert early rather than allowing him to try and become the second Pacers player this week to post a triple-double.
While Paul George, Indiana’s top scorer, struggled to get open in the first half, Hibbert scorched the Bucks for 14 points, seven rebounds and five blocks in just 15 minutes. After making halftime adjustments, the Bucks still couldn’t stop the 218-cm center, whom Vogel called the early front-runner for Defensive Player of the Year.
And this time, Hibbert was just as proficient on the offensive end. He knocked down 8 of 10 shots from the field, made all eight of his free throws and dominated the matchup with feisty Zaza Pachulia, who played with a sore right foot.
George finished with 22 points, 17 in the second half. Lance Stephenson, who had his first triple- double Monday, had 11 points and four boards during a game in which the Pacers fell behind twice in the first quarter, for just 64 seconds.
Injury-riddled Milwaukee (2-6) has now dropped four straight. O.J. Mayo led the Bucks with 20 points.
Bulls 96, Raptors 80
In Toronto, Luol Deng had 19 points, Joakim Noah scored 18 and Chicago overcame the absence of Derrick Rose to beat Toronto for its first road win of the season.
Rose, the 2011 NBA MVP, was sidelined by the right hamstring injury that knocked him out in the fourth quarter of Monday’s home win over Cleveland. He will be re-evaluated before the Bulls host undefeated Indiana on Saturday.
Heat 110, Mavericks 104
In Miami, LeBron James scored 39 points, Dwyane Wade had 17 points, eight assists and a career-best eight steals, and the Heat held off Dallas.
Nets 100, Suns 98 (OT)
In Phoenix, Joe Johnson tied it in regulation then corralled a loose ball in overtime and dropped in a short jumper as time expired to lift Brooklyn over the Suns in their first road win of the season.
Pistons 97, Kings 90
In Sacramento, Josh Smith had 21 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, and Detroit snapped a four-game skid.
Trail Blazers 109, Celtics 96
In Boston, LaMarcus Aldridge scored 27 points and added 12 rebounds to lead Portland to its first victory in Boston since 2004. Mo Williams scored 18 with eight assists for Portland, which earned its fifth consecutive victory.
Bobcats 86, Cavaliers 80
In Cleveland, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist scored 16 points and Charlotte used a strong fourth quarter to defeat the Cavaliers and win for only the second time in 16 games at Quicken Loans Arena.
Nuggets 117, Timberwolves 113
In Denver, Wilson Chandler scored 19 points, including a big 3-pointer and three free throws late in the game, and the Nuggets held off Minnesota for their third straight win.
Spurs 91, Jazz 82
In Salt Lake City, Tony Parker scored 14 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter and San Antonio rallied past Utah.
Hawks 113, 76ers 103
In Atlanta, Jeff Teague had a career-high 33 points and 10 assists, Al Horford added 20 points and the Hawks beat Philadelphia for their third win in four games.
Grizzlies 89, Lakers 86
In Los Angeles, Zack Randolph scored 14 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter and grabbed 11 rebounds, Mark Gasol had 18 points, eight boards and eight assists, and Memphis edged Los Angeles for its first road win of the season.