CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford believes that this is the time of the season when the really good teams start taking their games up a notch.
He's not ready to put his team in the same category as some of the NBA's elite, but he likes the way things are coming together.
The Hornets dominated the fourth quarter to beat the Indiana Pacers 108-101 on Friday night for their third straight win and their ninth in the last 11 games.
"You look at Cleveland, last year they took it to a different level and they probably will again this year," Clifford said. "This is where the best teams are gonna find their way and take it to another level.
"There are going to be two or three teams that are going to make big jumps here soon. It felt like we did that in the fourth quarter tonight."
The Hornets (33-28) are in a fierce battle for playoff positioning, entering the night with the No. 6 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
"I like our approach right now," Clifford said. "I think they know that when we play well, we're pretty good. I think they also understand that we're not overpowering, and if we don't play well we're not going to win, so we've got to stay focused. But we're playing with good confidence and intensity right now."
Kemba Walker led the Hornets with 33 points and 10 assists, and Nicolas Batum added 31 points on a night when the Hornets went 13 of 31 from 3-point range.
Walker and Batum each knocked down four 3-pointers. Two by Batum during an 11-3 spurt midway through the fourth quarter allowed the Hornets to build an 11-point lead.
"Kemba is just on a roll," Clifford said. "His confidence level is high and literally when he misses, I'm surprised. And Nic, right from the beginning was really aggressive. The whole game he was in the paint, and his defense was terrific, too. They were both terrific."
The win gave the Hornets a three-game sweep of the season series with the Pacers.
"It was a big game for us," Walker said. "Every time we've played against those guys it was a really important game, and we came out like that. We've been playing really hard, working really hard to win games, and it's happening for us."
Batum said, "You know what, the playoff race started like two weeks ago and this team will chase us for a playoff spot, so it was a big game for us. And to win the series against them, that was huge for us too."
The Pacers (32-30) lost for the fourth time in their last five games.
"They have just been too much for us," Indiana coach Frank Vogel said. "I think they are playing as one of the best teams in the league right now."
George said, "It's discouraging that we lose to a team three times in a row. I don't even know if we have beaten a team three times in a row this season. We have to show if we want to be a playoff contention team, we have got to do better than what we are doing."
The Hornets also got 13 points off the bench from Al Jefferson and 11 rebounds from Cody Zeller. Indiana's Ian Mahinmi finished with 10 points and 14 rebounds.
NOTES: The Hornets opened a seven-game homestand. It's the team's second seven-game homestand of the season. They will play 10 home games in March. ... This was the final regular-season meeting between the teams. The Hornets won 117-95 at Indiana on Feb. 10 and 96-95 at Indiana on Feb. 26. The Hornets had never swept a season series against the Pacers in franchise history. ... The Pacers were playing the third game on a four-game road trip and were in the middle of a stretch of six road games out of seven. They won at Milwaukee 104-99 on Wednesday. ... The Hornets were coming off a 119-99 win at Philadelphia on Wednesday. ... The Hornets continue to be without C Spencer Hawes (back), but they're 8-4 without him. ... The Pacers continue to be without G C.J. Miles (calf). ... The Hornets allow opponents fewer offensive rebounds than any team in the NBA. ... The Hornets announced their 10th sellout crowd of the season. ... The Hornets are now 12-2 at home with C Al Jefferson plays. ... ... The Pacers will play at Washington on Saturday. ... The Hornets will host Minnesota on Monday.