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Pacers down Hawks, roll into playoffs

The Associated Press

Indiana’s Paul George tosses an autographed shoe to fans after Wednesday’s game against Atlanta.

The Associated PressINDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Paul George always expected the Indiana Pacers to make it back to the playoffs.

So when they clinched a spot with Wednesday’s 104-86 victory over Atlanta’s backups, the four-time All-Star didn’t celebrate.

Instead, after scoring 12 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter, George and most of his teammates shook hands and traded high-fives, knowing another postseason matchup against LeBron James and the defending champs will be a bigger challenge.

“We have to go out and challenge them and play them straight up. It’s going to be tough,” George said. “They’ve been struggling as of late, but they’re still one of the best teams in this league and have one of the best players in the world. It’s going to be a fun matchup.”

Of course the Pacers have been here before. George still laments two conference finals losses to James’ when he was still playing with Miami.

But after an incredibly erratic season, the Pacers should be thrilled to clinch the No. 7 seed in the East and still have a chance to continue playing.

All it took to reach the postseason was five straight wins, George averaging nearly 31 points in those wins and a little help from George’s teammates against Atlanta’s overmatched B team.

The Hawks benched five of their top six players, and the Pacers took full advantage.

Jeff Teague finished with 19 points and seven assists against his former team before leaving with 2:08 to play after appearing to injure his left ankle. Myles Turner added 18 points, eight rebounds and six blocks. Recently signed Lance Stephenson had four points, 10 rebounds and six assists in 23 minutes.

And now the Pacers have the longest winning streak in the East.

“We had an uphill climb in the sense that we had to win out, our last five games,” coach Nate McMillan said. “It’s a relief and an excitement to be going into a new season.”

Bulls lock up final slot

CHICAGO (AP) — Jimmy Butler is ready for the challenge of the postseason.

Butler scored 25 points, and the Chicago Bulls beat the depleted Brooklyn Nets 112-73 in the regular-season finale to earn an Eastern Conference playoff spot.

Paul Zipser added a career-high 21 points off the bench as Chicago took advantage of a short-handed Brooklyn lineup to secure its first playoff appearance under coach Fred Hoiberg.

The Bulls, the No. 8 seed, will open the playoffs Sunday night against No. 1 seed Boston Celtics.Speech

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