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Pacers to face top-seeded Bulls

Posted Tuesday, April 12, 2011, at 9:58 PM

It is not often that I have been accused of showing great restraint, but I have not penned one column this season about the Indiana Pacers.

Cynics could say that there has been nothing to write about and that would probably be more true than false.

But despite being the only team to qualify for the 2011 National Basketball Association playoffs that will not have at least a .500 record, I could not help but write a few words about the third youngest team in the NBA.

Nobody is giving the eighth-seeded Pacers much of a chance against the top team in the East, the Chicago Bulls, led by MVP candidate Derrick Rose.

Rose averages 25.1 points and 7.7 assists in 37 minutes per game. Rose, who reportedly spent most of last summer in the gym, has improved his outside shot and has 3-point range, where he is now making over 33 percent of his treys. He is a tremendous foul shooter, making over 86 percent of his attempts.

In the lone Pacer win over Chicago -- 115-108 in overtime March 18 at Conseco Fieldhouse -- Rose had 42 points, 19 in the fourth quarter including three free throws with 1.2 seconds left on a controversial call, before fouling out in OT.

Rose, who is virtually unstoppable, was the reason the Bulls wiped out a 15-point fourth quarter deficit, but the Pacers showed great resolve to get the victory.

The Bulls dominated the other three match-ups in the regular season, winning all by double digits. They limited the Pacers to under 90 points per game and less than 40 percent shooting. Danny Granger, the Pacers leading scorer, shot just 37 percent against Chicago.

A 110-89 loss in Chicago on Jan. 29 turned out to be the last Pacer game coached by Jim O'Brien.

He was replaced by assistant Frank Vogel, who has guided the Pacers to a 20-17 mark heading into Wednesday's meaningless regular-season finale at Orlando.

Former Boston assistant and Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau should receive coach the year recognition the job he did in his first season as head man.

The Bulls eclipsed 60 wins and beat out Miami's Big Three and a veteran Boston team to earn the No. 1 seed in the East. They are pushing the Spurs for the No. 1 seed overall in the playoffs.

Their accomplishments included playing without Carlos Boozer for a month, including during the lone Pacer win.

Since the current playoff format was adopted in 1984, there has only been three times that an eight seed topped a No. 1.

Who can forget the look of joy on the face of Denver center Dikembe Mutombo when he secured the ball and the Nuggets upset of No. 1 seed Seattle, who was coached by George Karl at the time.

Back in 1994, the Nuggets won the first-round series, which was then best-of-five instead of best-of-seven, 3-2.

The Sonics had won 63 games while Denver went into the playoffs at 42-40. Reserve guard Robert Pack scored 10 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter and Mutombo dominated the paint defensively as the Nuggets won the deciding game 98-94 in overtime, beating a team featuring Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp.

Five years later, the No. 8 Knicks beat No. 1 Miami, also in a best-of-five.

It was just four years ago when Don Nelson and his Golden State Warriors defeated Dallas in a seven-game series. This was the season after the Mavericks lost to Miami in the NBA Finals after being within six minutes of a 3-0 lead. This led to the eventual firing of Avery Johnson and led to the hiring of former Pistons and Pacers boss Rick Carlisle.

This season, the Pacers have beaten Miami, Boston, Chicago, the Lakers and Dallas, which means nothing going into the playoffs.

With rookie Paul George, second-year player Tyler Hansbrough and third-year center Roy Hibbert in the starting line-up, the Pacers might just be naive and cocky enough to believe they can pull off an upset.

It feels good to have at least four playoff games to talk about, the first in five seasons.

I believe the Blue and Gold were in the playoffs 15 of 16 years prior to the current drought. Maybe this is the start of another streak of excellence, even if this series gets ugly.

I am not into predictions, but I would be surprised if the Pacers don't find a way to get at least one, if not two games.

It will start either Saturday or Sunday in Chicago.

B.J. Hargis is sports editor at the Greene County Daily World. He can be reached at (812) 847-4487, ext. 12 or at hargisbj@gmail.com.



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Enough said
B.J. Hargis
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