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Pacers try to sidestep issues during playoffs

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If the Indiana Pacers are worried about Roy Hibbert, they hide it well.

Hardly a secret, coaches and teammates acknowledge the 7-foot-2 center has struggled the past two months. But they dismiss assertions their playoff fortunes rest squarely on his All-Star shoulders.

Hardly a secret, the Pacers have struggled as a team the past two months. So their postseason concerns aren’t centered on just one player. They have plenty to clean up, at both ends of the floor, as they begin their bid for the Eastern Conference title.

Top-seeded Indiana hosts the No. 8 Atlanta Hawks in tonight’s Game 1 of their first-round series. The Pacers have home-court advantage throughout the East playoffs and insist playing well at Bankers Life Fieldhouse will go a long way in fixing their recent problems, which have occurred at both ends of the court.

Stagnant offense and soft defense have been common themes. Chemistry, at times, has been one, too. So has inconsistency from All-Star Paul George.

There have been no shortage of problem areas.

“We’re going to focus in and work on some tendencies, but we’re getting prepared,” said forward David West, one of Indiana’s few beacons of consistency. “We’ve got to take care of home.

“We’ve just got to prepare every single game as hard as we can and come out and execute exactly what we talked about doing in the film room.”

Although the Pacers can’t attribute their post-All-Star break slump to a single cause, Hibbert has been the main source of criticism.

An All-Star this season, along with teammate Paul George, Hibbert has been a virtual non-factor down the stretch. He has shot 27.2 percent from the field in the past 10 games and in the past four has gone 3 of 28 from the field for a total of nine points.

During last Sunday’s 102-97 win against the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder, Hibbert missed all nine of his field-goal attempts and finished with zero points. During Wednesday’s season-ending 101-86 win at Orlando, he was 1 of 7 from the floor.

Moreover, Hibbert had a combined 13 rebounds in both games.

Yet the Pacers still voice confidence in Hibbert, a two-time All-Star who earlier in the season was billed as the NBA’s leading candidate for Defensive Player of the Year.

“I’ve seen him have some tough stretches where he struggles and kind of gets down on himself. He doesn’t seem to be that way right now,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “He seems pretty confident, even in light of things not going his way.”

Hibbert insists he hasn’t lost confidence. But he is losing patience with reporters who inquire about his mindset.

He made that clear after Thursday’s practice when the topic was raised again.

“Ready to roll. I’ve said that before. I’m tired of you guys asking me that,” Hibbert said. “I’m ready to go.”

Hibbert added that he doesn’t feel any extra pressure to elevate his game in the playoffs — which he did to maximum effect during last year’s conference finals, when he nearly carried the Pacers to the NBA Finals.

“I’ve been doing this for like six years now, so I’m ready to go,” Hibbert said. “It’s playoff time.”

Point guard George Hill, who has also struggled in recent games, is confident the playoffs will not only bring out the best in Hibbert but in the entire team.

“Definitely. The good thing is, we ended the season with a couple of wins, so it’s going pretty good for us,” Hill said. “At the same time, we’re starting to play well on both ends now.

“I think we’re headed in the right direction.”

West, always the cautious optimist, agrees.

“We’re pretty upbeat. We like the way we finished the year with two good wins,” he said. “I think the energy of the guys is right. Again, we want to come out aggressive with the focus on protecting the home court.”

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