NBA News Wire

Reserves guide Pacers past Magic

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ORLANDO, Fla. — Despite their late-season struggles, the Indiana Pacers are right where they always wanted to be.

The Pacers, who beat the Orlando Magic 101-86 Wednesday night, will open the playoffs against the Atlanta Hawks as the No. 1 seed in the East, guaranteeing them home-court advantage all the way through the conference finals.

It is not a bad place to be for the team with the best home record (35-6) in the NBA this season. The Pacers closed the regular season by winning only 10 of their last 23 games, but they didn’t seem to care Wednesday night.

“We are ready for the playoffs, without question. We are ready to go,” center Roy Hibbert said. “This is a smart team that knows what needs to be done. We’ve been there before. It will be a process, a grind, but we’re right where we need to be.”

While hardly trying and with three starters sitting out, the Pacers (56-26) closed the regular season by cruising past the hapless Magic, never facing a serious challenge in the second half.

Lightly regarded Indiana forward Rasual Butler, who averaged just seven minutes and 2.7 points during the regular season, scored a season-high 19 points and added five assists in his best game of the season.

“It was great to get back on the floor and make a difference tonight,” said Butler, who hit eight of 13 shots. “People talked about our struggles late, but I’ll take those struggles any day to be where we are now, the No. 1 seed with home-court advantage.”

Three of Indiana’s regular starters, forwards David West and Paul George and guard Lance Stephenson, watched from the sideline while the reserves carried the load against Orlando.

Pacers forward Evan Turner, who struggled to find his niche since coming from the Philadelphia 76ers in February, had 14 points, eight rebounds and six assists in one of his best overall games. He hit five of six shots. Both he and Butler made just their second start with the Pacers.

Indiana, which clinched the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed Monday night, used the regular-season finale to tune up for Atlanta.

“There always is value in winning games,” Indiana coach Frank Vogel said. “Anytime you have bench guys getting extended minutes, that’s really good for their rhythm and confidence.”

Indiana forward Chris Copeland scored 19 points. Forward Luis Scola contributed 10 points and eight rebounds, and guard Donald Sloan added 13 points. Forward Lavoy Allen, who came with Turner in the trade with Philadelphia, had 12 points and a team-high 11 rebounds.

“We are fine right now,” said point guard George Hill, who scored five points in just 14 minutes. “It’s a long regular season. We didn’t play our best at the end, but it doesn’t matter now. It’s the first to win 16 games in the playoffs now.”

The Magic (23-59) lost their fourth consecutive game and finished with the third-worst record in the league, giving them a 15.6 percent chance of winning the No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft lottery.

Orlando was led by forward Maurice Harkless, who had 14 points and five rebounds. Reserve guard E’Twaun Moore scored 13 points, and center Dewayne Dedmon had a game-high 13 rebounds.

“I really believe in the process of working your way toward being really good and an elite team in this league,” Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. “What we’ve been doing is growing our young guys. We have a resilient bunch who will continue working hard.”

The Pacers led by as many as 18 points in the third quarter and took a 75-62 lead into the fourth. Allen had 10 points in the third quarter.

Indiana led 46-40 at intermission, hitting six of 13 shots from 3-point range. Turner, starting in place of Stephenson, had 11 points at halftime. The Pacers closed the half with a 3-pointer by Hill and a dunk at the buzzer by Butler.

Hibbert, who struggled during the last month of the season, made only one of seven shots from the field in the first half. He finished with four points and seven rebounds in 17 minutes.

NOTES: The Magic were without C Nikola Vucevic (sore left Achilles) and G Jameer Nelson (strained left groin). … Nelson has played in 651 games over 10 seasons for the Magic, trailing only Nick Anderson (692) for most games played. This might be the final season in Orlando for Nelson because the team has an option on the third and final year of his contract. … Pacers coach Frank Vogel said before the game that getting the No. 1 seed was the goal from the start of the season. “We never said it was do-or-die. Nothing you do in the regular season is do-or-die. It was just something to give us every possible advantage come playoff time,” he said. “Now it’s time to perform when it really matters.” … When Magic F Jason Maxiell entered the game late in the first quarter, it was the first time he played in 15 games. He scored two points in five minutes.