INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Underachievers for much of the season, the
Indiana Pacers look dangerous heading into the playoffs.
The Pacers beat the Orlando Magic 89-83 on Wednesday night for
their fifth win in six games. Indiana (41-41) will open the
postseason Sunday afternoon at Atlantic Division champion New
Jermaine O'Neal had 24 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks to
help the Pacers claim the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference. As
recently as a week ago, it looked as if Indiana might miss the
playoffs. The Pacers barely avoided their first losing season since
"I just think it really took for us to hit rock bottom to
really realize we weren't going to give ourselves an opportunity to
excel and be fair to this franchise and this city," O'Neal said.
The strong finish has the Pacers thinking big.
"I still believe this team has a lot of potential, and if we
play to our capabilities we can be fine," forward Peja Stojakovic
O'Neal has been back from a torn left groin for a month after
missing 24 games. He has averaged 25 points, 11 rebounds and three
blocks in the Pacers' last five games.
"I'm going to try to continue to build, and continue to be
effective," he said. "I'm finally to the point where I can say
I'm healthy. My groin is not an issue. It is 100 percent, I don't
have any of the fluid inside my leg that was really hindering me
from being mobile."
Stephen Jackson finished with 22 points, Stojakovic had 17 and
Jeff Foster added nine points and 10 rebounds for Indiana. The
Pacers outrebounded the Magic 54-37 and held Orlando to 36-percent
Orlando (36-46) finished the season with two straight losses
after an eight-game winning streak. The Magic won 16 of their final
22 games after a slow start to give them slight playoff hopes
entering the final weeks of the season.
The Pacers held Dwight Howard in check. Orlando's top scorer and
rebounder had averaged 21.2 points and 15.8 rebounds in his last
five games, but he was limited to 10 points and seven boards.
Orlando missed 11 of its first 12 shots, and Indiana held the
Magic to 5-for-21 shooting from the field in the first quarter as
the Pacers led 23-13 at the end of the period. The fact that
Orlando was out of the playoff hunt might have contributed to its
"It was definitely an empty feeling coming into the game
knowing we had no chance for the playoffs," Howard said. "My
heart really sank."
The Magic cut Indiana's lead to 41-37 at halftime. O'Neal had 11
points and nine rebounds at the break.
Orlando got within 45-43 early in the third quarter, but the
Pacers responded with a 9-2 run that included five points from
Jackson to pull ahead 57-47 midway through the period.
The Pacers led 72-58 at the end of the third quarter, but
Orlando cut Indiana's lead to 87-83 on a layup by Arroyo with 1:34
left. The Magic failed to score on their final three possessions.
Orlando is looking forward to next season with a young nucleus
that starts with Howard.
"I can't wait," Howard said. "Everybody on this team is a
hard worker, and I'm sure they're going to work to get better as
Now the Pacers can focus on the Nets, a team they beat two out
of three times this season. Indiana forward Austin Croshere said
the Pacers have a lot to prove after falling short of expectations
during the regular season.
"It's an opportunity to show the national media that our
reality is a little closer to the way we played the last six
Howard was the only player in the NBA to grab more than
1,000 rebounds this season. ... Orlando forward Hedo Turkoglu did
not play. Stacey Augmon started in his place. ... Indiana's Foster
played after missing three games with a sore lower back. ...
Indiana center Scot Pollard was issued a technical foul with 3:08
left in the third quarter after arguing a call. ... O'Neal had nine
of Indiana's 17 turnovers.