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After break, refreshed Pacers run past Atlanta

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Maybe a little rest was all they needed after all.

Looking refreshed, relaxed and ready to extend their Eastern Conference edge, the Indiana Pacers returned from the All-Star break with a 108-98 win Tuesday night against the visiting Atlanta Hawks.

Starting strong and finishing the same way, the Pacers raced a 31-9 lead, withstood a series of Atlanta runs, then led the entire second half to open the post-break on a winning note.

Perhaps most encouraging of all for the Pacers (41-12) was the play of Paul George, who followed up an impressive All-Star showing with an even more impressive performance in the first game back from the break.

George, who had 18 points in Sunday’s All-Star Game, scored a game-high 26 against the Hawks on an 8 for 18 night from the field. He was 4 of 8 on three-point tries and didn’t look like a player who had been mired in a shooting slump.

The NBA’s 11th-leading scorer heading in at 22 points per game, George had only reached his average once in the previous 10 outings. He entered the break coming off a 12-point, 4 of 17 night during the Pacers’ disheartening 81-73 home loss against Dallas.

Collectively, the Pacers — who lost two of their last three games heading into the break — put the Dallas debacle behind them with Tuesday’s impressive win. In the process, they maintained their lead in the East. They led Miami 2½ games heading in.

Leading almost start to finish, the Pacers shot 49 percent from the field, were 21 of 26 from the free throw line, and had four or five starters reach double figures.

David West had 17 points and six rebounds. Lance Stephenson had 13 points and a seven assists. And Roy Hibbert, who had eight points and five rebounds in the All-Star Game, finished with 10 points, five rebounds and a game-high four blocked shots. He has now had four block in three of the past four games.

Point guard George Hill also had a productive night for the Pacers. He was 4 of 4 from the field for nine points and tallied seven assists. The former IUPUI and Broad Ripple High School star has now had seven or more assists in four of the last six games.

Indiana also got an offensive lift from its bench. Danny Granger and Luis Scola had nine points each. Ian Mahinmi and C.J. Watson had six apiece. Scola and Mahinmi each had five rebounds, and Mahinmi added three blocks.

For Atlanta (25-27), which has now lost six straight, Kyle Korver had a team-high 19 points. Cartier Martin, with 12 points, was the only other starter in double figures.

Lou Williams had 18 off the bench, and reserves Mike Scott and former Butler star Shelvin Mack had 13 and 11, respectively. Mack also had six rebounds and a game-high eight assists.

Indiana returns to action tonight at Minnesota.

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