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Take this to bank: Indiana will find way to beat Atlanta

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They are doing it the hard way, but they are doing it.

They are getting out of the first round of the playoffs.

Yes, the Indiana Pacers are moving on. It won’t be official until later this evening, but make no mistake, they are moving on.

A bold prediction? Not really. The Pacers have underachieved and on two occasions been downright atrocious, but they are the better team in this series.

Game 7 is today. It’s at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

The Pacers will not lose the deciding game at home. Period.

True, the Pacers have dropped two in the fieldhouse during the series. Both were ugly. Both made the home crowd boo. Loudly.

But it will be different this time.

Because despite the Pacers’ swoon, which began just before the All-Star break, fans — no matter how wretched the performances or how negative the press — haven’t given up on them, and they clearly haven’t given up on themselves.

Games are still selling out. Crowds are energized. And the Pacers, who could have easily bowed out of the series Thursday night, are still bent on advancing.

Though not a masterpiece, Thursday’s Game 6 performance in Atlanta demonstrated that the Pacers possibly, maybe, are finding their way out of the wilderness. Consider:

For a change, three players — David West, Paul George and Lance Stephenson — had strong outings at a critical time.

For a change, they didn’t collapse under pressure and rallied from a fourth-quarter deficit.

For a change, they played with a resolve to keep their season alive.

For a change, they finally seem to have figured the Hawks — and their speedy perimeter scheme — out.

And they did it on the road, in front of a hostile crowd, in a venue where they traditionally lose.

Does that sound like a No. 1 seed poised to throw it all away at home?

No way.

Indiana still isn’t polished, still has issues and still has a long, long way to go recapture the mojo that launched it to a 46-10 start.

But it is not dead. It will live on until at least the Eastern Conference Finals. Where it goes from there is another column for another time.

As for the here and now, the Pacers will avoid infamy. They will not become the sixth No. 1 seed in league history to lose in the first round. Nor will they lose in the second. Atlanta has posed a unique challenge, one they have been slow to figure out.

But moving forward, homecourt advantage will likely be a true advantage, at least through the semifinals. Ugly as this series has been, it’s been great prep for the next. Expect even Roy Hibbert to be somewhat ready by then. If he is, then the conference finals might not be the end of the road.

But again, that’s another column for another time.

For the moment, know this: The Pacers are destined for the semifinals. No first-round exit. No Game 7 embarrassment at home. No way. Guaranteed. With one caveat.

I have been wrong before.

Rick Morwick is the sports editor of the Daily Journal. Send comments to rmorwick@dailyjournal.net.

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