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NEW ORLEANS — The Indiana Pacers continue to prove that bad habits are hard to break.

They should have a learned a long time ago that they’re not good enough to decide to play when they want.

After a dreadful first half against the New Orleans Hornets on Friday night, the Pacers paid the price in a 107-101 loss.

“We just got off to an awful start,” Pacers swingman Mike Dunleavy said. “We came out of the gates and just did not do the things we talked about in the pregame meetings.”

If their performance in the first half was any indication, the Pacers are in for a long final 28 games of the season because help isn’t on the way.

With the trade deadline behind them, the Pacers can’t make a deal. Team president Larry Bird already has given coach Jim O’Brien a vote of confidence.

The Pacers have dropped 24 straight road games against teams with winning records. The final three games of this trip are against teams with winning records.

O’Brien classified this game — his team’s fourth straight loss — as an anomaly. He said the Pacers normally compete even with 21 double-digit losses this season.

“I think, generally speaking, we compete a lot,” O’Brien said.

The Pacers’ inept defense made Hornets rookie point guard Darren Collison look like an All-Star.

Collison had 18 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists in 45 minutes for his first triple-double. Forward David West had 29 points, nine rebounds and seven assists for the Hornets.

“It means a lot,” Collison said. “To be honest, I was just going out there and playing and my teammates were just telling me what I needed and being supportive. I hope I have a lot more in my career and I was fortunate to have one today.”

The Pacers’ desire to treat the first half like it was an extra warm-up session had them down by 13 points in the first quarter and 21 points in the second quarter.

“We weren’t ready to play,” O’Brien said. “We just did not get the job done in the first half and dug ourselves too big of a hole. It was unacceptable.”

The Pacers trimmed their 19-point halftime deficit to 12 by the end of the third quarter, then got to within 87-83 on two Danny Granger free throws with a little more than seven minutes left in the game.

The Hornets, however, scored 12 of the next 16 points, including back-to-back 3-pointers from Collison and Peja Stojakovic, to get their lead up to 12 again.

Dunleavy scored eight points during a 90-second span to get the Pacers back to within four.

The Hornets, however, scored 12 of the next 16 points, including back-to-back 3-pointers from Collison and Peja Stojakovic, to get their lead up to 12 again.

Dunleavy scored eight points during a 90-second span to get the Pacers back to within four.

The Hornets, however, scored 12 of the next 16 points, including back-to-back 3-pointers from Collison and Peja Stojakovic, to get their lead up to 12 again.

Dunleavy scored eight points during a 90-second span to get the Pacers back to within four.

New Orleans closed out the game by going 4-of-6 from the free throw line.

Granger led the Pacers with 29 points, and Dunleavy came off the bench to score 15 points.

“We have to develop some consistency,” Granger said. “We’ve been battling with that all year. We haven’t got a handle on that, but when we do we will win more games than we lose.”

The Pacers (18-36)

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