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Despite blowout, Pacers not in panic mode


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Depending on your outlook, there is no need to panic or every reason to be concerned.

On the one hand, the Indiana Pacers still firmly control their Eastern Conference Semifinals series against the Washington Wizards and can close it out tonight in Game 6.

If they don’t, they’ll get another chance at home Sunday.

On the other hand, the Pacers were blasted — at home — in a close-out opportunity Tuesday night and head to Washington with shaken confidence against a dangerous and rejuvenated opponent.

Lose tonight, and the series is back up for grabs.

As far as the sixth-seeded Wizards are concerned, it already is.

“We still have an opportunity. We feel like if we play our game, we can beat these guys,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said after their resounding    102-79 Game 5 triumph.

The win not only staved off elimination, it re-instilled a belief that toppling No. 1 Indiana is not too tall an order.

“If you want to win playoff series and play at a championship level, you have to be able to win on the road,” said           All-Star point guard John Wall, who had 27 points, five assists and five rebounds in the victory. “We have to find a way to win at home (tonight).”

To date, that’s something the Wizards have not done in the best-of-seven series, which Indiana leads 3-2. And that’s where the Pacers find a measure of solace.

After dropping Game 1 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the Pacers rallied for three straight victories, including two at Washington. They are 4-1 on the road in the playoffs and still have two opportunities to close the series.

“Still up 3-2,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said after Tuesday’s defeat. “It’s only one loss, whether you lose by 20-something or lose by one. It’s one loss.

“We’ve got to go back and respond for Game 6.”

Whatever the response, it will come in the wake of one of the worst playoff performances in franchise history.

Outrebounded 62-23 and outplayed in virtually all other areas, the Pacers were never in contention after the first quarter. Outscored 31-14 in the third period, the Pacers trailed by 30 late in the fourth and had only two players, David West and Paul George, score in double figures.

The lifeless performance was particularly baffling on a night the Pacers were positioned to seize the series in front of a sellout home crowd.

“We didn’t come out with enough intent to win the ball game and close a team out,” said George, who had 15 points on 5-of-15 shooting from the field. “We have to watch the film, watch what we can improve on. It should be glaring.

“We have to rebound the ball. We have to do a great job of just making the (Wizards) uncomfortable, and I don’t think we did that.”

Not even close.

“We had no zip. If we want to win this series, we’re going to have to take it,” said West, who had team-high totals of 17 points and six rebounds. “They’re a very good team, a team full of guys with a lot of pride.

“They just played at a different level.”

Indiana can ill-afford a similar performance tonight, if for no other reason a Game 7 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse guarantees nothing should Washington even the series on its home floor.

Although the Pacers have played well on the road in the playoffs, they have not been efficient at home. They are 3-4 at the fieldhouse, where they trailed by 30 in ugly losses to Atlanta and Washington.

Closing the deal tonight, if they can, is clearly in their best interests.

“We’ll definitely come out with more energy than we did (Tuesday),” Pacers guard George Hill said. “We have to go in with a must-win mentality.”

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