INDIANAPOLIS -- Danny Granger is picking up where he left off last season.
Indiana's returning All-Star scored 22 points in 17 minutes, leading the Pacers to a 119-104 preseason victory over the Houston Rockets on Friday night.
The fifth-year swingman is averaging more than 19 points through Indiana's four exhibition games. Last season, he ranked fifth in the NBA at 25.8 points per game, earning him the All-Star berth and the league's Most Improved Player award.
"You have to go out there and play as hard as possible, get yourself in a good rhythm," said Granger, who was 7 of 13 from the field, including four 3-pointers. "Just because it's preseason, it's not a relaxed time."
Granger's teammates have come to expect his best every night, even in an exhibition game.
"He does the same thing in practice," said forward Troy Murphy, who added 17 points. "Nothing he does surprises me. He's a great player."
Granger is trying to set a different tone after struggling in the preseason the past couple of seasons.
"Maybe it's a maturity process I'm going through," he said. "I'm really not putting too much pressure on myself anymore."
Granger's 19 points in the first half lifted the Pacers to a 71-51 lead. He only played 5 minutes in the third quarter and sat out the fourth.
"If he moves, I think he'll be able to score," Indiana coach Jim O'Brien said. "It won't come easy because he'll be the focus of other teams' defense. He knows more about how to free himself and look for opportunities."
Luther Head had 13 points and seven rebounds for the Pacers, who returned to Conseco Fieldhouse after playing exhibition games in Taiwan and Beijing.
"We weren't really happy with how we played in our second game in Beijing," Murphy said. "We want to establish a winning mentality around here."
Carl Landry and Will Conroy both had 14 points for the Rockets, while Luis Scola, playing with a sprained right ankle, finished with nine points and 10 rebounds. Houston's defense allowed the Pacers to shoot nearly 49 percent from the field and 52 percent from beyond the arc.
"We were being beat off the dribble. They were getting straight to the basket," Rockets coach Rick Adelman said. "It (defense) was definitely a concern. We're going to have to talk about it."
Dahntay Jones' layup late in the third quarter gave Indiana a 26-point lead and the Rockets chipped away at the deficit in the final period.