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Cavaliers Pacers Basketball

Indiana Pacers guard Lance Stephenson (1) ties up the ball with Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) during the second half of Game 4 on Sunday in Indianapolis. The Pacers are adding drama to the NBA playoffs.

Imagine being chased down a dark alley by a vicious pack of guard dogs snapping at your heels.

You've just been introduced to the Indiana Pacers.

The Pacers' opening-round playoff series with LeBron James and the favored Cleveland Cavaliers has been an in-your-face, contentious matchup that's impossible to sit through without spilling chips and nachos all over the recliner.

Their series is tied 2-2, and the Pacers probably feel they should be up 3-1 entering Wednesday's game in Cleveland.

Other than Indiana's 18-point shocker in Game 1, the last three have been decided by nine points.

In Sunday's 104-100 loss, the Pacers overcame a 17-point halftime deficit and led three times in the fourth quarter. Mistakes at the end cost them.

If the Bulls are truly rebuilding a new "culture," they should tear a page from Indiana's playbook.

Coach Nate McMillan's Pacers are young, deep, athletic and have solid shooters in Victor Oladipo, Bojan Bogdanovic, Darren Collison, Myles Turner, Thaddeus Young, Cory Joseph and Lance Stephenson — if the latter plays under control.

Lake Central grad Glenn Robinson III saw brief action in Game 1 but has become a spectator after a promising season resulted in missing 59 games with ankle surgery.

After the all-star break, McMillan's rotations were pretty well set and GR3 was playing limited minutes. When you get to the playoffs, it's typical for coaches to shorten the rotations.

Let's look at the bigger picture. Two more Indiana wins and the Cavs are history.

The numbers 39 and 1 had special meaning for McMillan's team, which felt disrespected in the regular season.

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Written off as a group of castaways with more questions than answers, the Pacers weren't given much of a chance in the East after trading superstar Paul George to Oklahoma City.

The current team has no superstar. Oladipo, at best, is a top-25 player.

That explains why the Cavs were on national television 39 times, the Pacers only ONCE.

But check out Indiana now, with its work ethic of a Navy Seal paying off.

Oladipo had been traded during two consecutive summers. Domantas Sabonis had been moved after precisely one year in Oklahoma City. Cory Joseph was less valuable to Toronto. Sacramento flat out didn’t want Collison. Same story with the Wizards and Bogdanovic.

It's widely accepted Stephenson gets under your skin like a tick with his scratchy, clawing defense. He still needed to prove he belonged in the NBA after playing for five teams in two seasons — and has.

Sabonis played power forward at OKC and spent too much time away from the rim. As a Pacer, he had to work on being a post player — skills his body was better suited for. He's made vast improvements.

Oladipo knew he needed more strength and better endurance, so he transformed his body from mushy to ripped in just a few weeks last summer.

Joe Young, currently not in McMillan's playoff rotation, became emblematic of Indiana's commitment to the game by spending his summer often sleeping on the court of the St. Vincent Center, where he would take 300 shots every time he woke up.

Treat yourself Wednesday night and watch Game 5.

Better hold your chips and nachos tight.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com.

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