INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Pacers approached Monday night’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves as though they were facing the Chicago Bulls or the Miami Heat.
The Pacers rolled to a 25-point lead in the first 9 minutes and beat the Timberwolves 111-88 for their fifth consecutive win.
This young team is starting to get it.
“We came out with the killer instinct tonight,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “That set the tone for us. That’s what we want to go into the playoffs with.”
David West had 22 points and 10 rebounds, Danny Granger scored 19 points, Paul George had 18 and Roy Hibbert added 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Pacers, who solidified their grip on the No. 3 position in the Eastern Conference standings.
Indiana has won eight of nine games, but none of the other wins started this well. The Pacers generally have been stronger in the second half than in the first, but this time, they did the right things from the opening tip.
“I think the biggest thing is that we continue to build good habits,” West said. “We’re coming out and trying to make the right play every single time. I think that’s imperative for us. We continue the momentum we’re starting to build and hopefully, we’ll be playing some of our best ball a week-and-a-half from now.”
Indiana scored at least 100 points for the 10th time in 11 games.
“We’ve been trusting the pass,” George said. “Everybody’s been willing to share the ball, and we’ve been moving.”
Jose Barea had 14 points and nine assists and reserves Michael Beasley and Derrick Williams added 13 points each for Minnesota, which lost its 10th in a row. Kevin Love, one of the league’s top scorers and rebounders, sat out for the third consecutive game with a mild concussion and a neck strain.
Minnesota coach Rick Adelman said Love’s injury was no excuse.
“You have to come out and compete, and we didn’t compete,” he said. “It’s a glaring problem. We know we have injuries, but we’re better than that.”
The Pacers rolled to a 22-4 lead as Minnesota missed 10 of its first 11 shots.
“They came out with a lot of energy,” Minnesota forward Anthony Randolph said. “They are getting ready for playoff basketball. It was just a tough loss.”
Indiana made three consecutive 3-pointers to take a 55-23 lead in the second quarter. Later in the period, Indiana got six offensive rebounds on one possession before an emphatic right-handed putback dunk by George Hill put the Pacers up 59-27.
The Pacers led 64-30 at halftime as Indiana made 8 of 14 3-pointers and outrebounded Minnesota 33-23. Minnesota shot just 27.5 percent in posting its lowest-scoring half of the season.
“It’s inexcusable to play the way we did in the first half,” Adelman said. “They were tougher than we were. It’s as simple as that. They’re going to be physical and come at us, and we have to be ready to play.”
Indiana maintained its lead in the third quarter behind 12 points from West. The Pacers shot 50 percent in the third quarter in taking a 93-63 lead.
A flurry by Minnesota cut Indiana’s lead to 95-77 with 6:54 remaining, causing Vogel to call a timeout. The Pacers made just one of their first nine shots in the fourth quarter. The Timberwolves cut Indiana’s lead to 14 points before a 3-pointer by A.J. Price pushed the Pacers’ lead to 98-81 and helped the increasingly restless crowd relax.
Even with the shaky fourth quarter, West liked what he saw.
“This is the time of year where you’ve got to be coming together,” he said. “We’re fine-tuning some things we want to do offensively. Obviously, trying to be a collective unit defensively. And then, just play with a certain level of aggression, especially when you’re dealing with teams that don’t have anything to play for this time of year, like the Timberwolves.”
The Pacers are 2½ games ahead of Orlando and Atlanta for third place with five games remaining. A top three seed would give Indiana homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
“Everything we do is geared toward winning in the playoffs,” Vogel said. “And the first step is getting homecourt advantage.”
Notes: Former Pacers C Brad Miller entered the game in the first quarter for the Timberwolves and got a loud cheer. … Indiana Mr. Basketball Gary Harris attended the game. He will play at Michigan State. … Indiana PG Darren Collison played after missing the past four games with a sore groin. He went scoreless and committed three fouls in 19 minutes as a reserve. … Minnesota shot 22.7 percent in the first quarter. … Granger scored at least 18 points for the 12th straight game. … It was West’s second game this season with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds. … Minnesota has allowed at least 111 points in six of the 10 losses.