With playoffs clinched, Pacers focus in on the second seed

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INDIANAPOLIS – There will be postseason in Indianapolis-and Twitter told him so.

That’s how Paul George awoke on Thursday morning as he checked his feed on the social network and realized that his Pacers had qualified for a third consecutive NBA postseason.

In Los Angeles, the Clippers beat the Sixers late Wednesday night which thought a little standings math assured that Indiana would be one of the 16 teams in the field for the championship.

But it wasn’t like he was jumping for joy or celebrating. That was 2011 when the team ended a five-year playoff drought by grabbing the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed.

With 14 games remaining, the stakes are much higher in 2013.

“For us it’s still competition,” said George of the end of the regular season. “It’s no time to slack or take a step back on what we’re doing right now.”

That is chasing the second seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs, which is very much up for grabs as the end of the regular season approaches. Right now the Pacers sit a game ahead of the Knicks for that spot, two ahead of the Nets, four ahead of the Hawks and five in front of the Bulls.

With the aid of a 24-game winning streak, the Heat have all but locked up the top seed in the conference leaving the others to fight for second best.

“We’re competing not to make the playoffs but to win the two seed and to win our division,” said head coach Frank Vogel. “The fact that we’ve clinched hasn’t changed our focus.”

Getting to that second seed will go through the Eastern Conference as the Pacers will play 9-of-their-last-14 games against familiar foes. Milwaukee is first to come in on Friday night with a trip to Chicago set for Saturday and a home game on Monday against the Hawks. For the next week the team goes on a West Coast road swing in interconference play, hosts Oklahoma City on April 5th, then finishes the season against the conference.

That’s why there was little celebration for late Wednesday night’s accomplishment.

“It’s a big deal for us, obviously getting to the playoffs, but we have much more. We want to make a deep playoff run,” said forward Tyler Hansbrough, who will help do so for David West in the interim.

The starting forward will miss the next two games with a lower back strain meaning that Hansbrough will take a number of his minutes and his place in the lineup. So far the fourth-year forward has done his part, averaging 16 points and 12.5 rebounds in the two victories since West’s injury.

“I’ve felt good, my confidence is up and that’s the main thing,” said Hansbrough.

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