For veteran Pacers, this is their Finals
Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indiana Pacers are in the NBA Finals for the first time and don't intend to be a sacrificial lamb to Western Conference champion Los Angeles.

Indiana practiced Sunday morning not knowing if they'd be heading to Los Angeles or Portland for the first two games in the best-of-seven series. That was determined Sunday night when the Lakers beat Portland 89-84 in Game 7 of their conference finals.

No matter which team won, the Pacers were convinced they would be challenged and be the underdog.

The series begins Wednesday in Los Angeles.

"Today it was back to work. Obviously, we're very excited about making it to this point of the season," guard Jalen Rose said. "We're going in to win this thing. We like the way we match up against both teams. We split our games with the Lakers and swept Portland."

The uncertainty of not knowing their opponent until after Sunday night's game didn't concern the Pacers.

"It isn't hard because we've got to concentrate on what we do best. We can fine-tune a lot of things that we can do better in order to become NBA champions," said Rose, the team's scoring leader in the regular season who is second to Reggie Miller (23.8) in the playoffs with a 20.1 average.

For all but two of the Pacers this is the first trip to the NBA Finals. Reserves Sam Perkins and Zan Tabak are the exceptions and Tabak was a member of the 1995 Houston Rockets championship team.

"It doesn't matter if we're playing the Lakers. What counts is what we do," said Perkins, who has the most playoff experience of any Pacer with 158 games. "The Lakers are certainly a powerful, talented team. Whatever happens, we've got to be healthy and play our game. We've got to go out and play relaxed.

"The games in the Finals can be a once in a lifetime experience."

Indiana reached the Finals by beating the New York Knicks, the team that eliminated the Pacers twice in their previous four trips to the conference finals, in Game 6 on Friday.

"It's nice to take the next step. To be close so many times, it's going to be nice to see what it's going to be like," center Rik Smits said. "We still got one more step to go. It (his career) is still going to be incomplete if we don't finish the next step. We're still playing, we still got a chance and we might as well make the best of it."

The 7-foot-4 Smits had little impact in Indiana's final two victories against New York, going just 1-for-10 from the field and scoring only four points in 25 minutes while accumulating nine fouls. After going scoreless in Game 5, Smits played only 13 minutes and had three rebounds and five fouls in Game 6.

"I'd liked to have been more involved in the game," he said of Game 6, Indiana's 93-80 victory. "I felt like I made little contribution. Certainly, I'm disappointed. But my teammates made it and I'd like to contribute a little more in the next round."

Smits, who is averaging 11.3 points and 3.4 rebounds in this year's playoffs, was anticipating a tough matchup against Los Angeles' Shaquille O'Neal.

"You've got to try and keep him away from the basket, try to limit his touches," Smits said of the 7-1, 315-pound O'Neal.

The Lakers center took league-leading playoff averages of 28.8 points and 15.4 rebounds into Sunday night's game. The league's MVP led the NBA with a 29.7 point average and a .574 percentage from the field during the regular season.

"If they have a good day, they find him. He spins for lobs, off of guys, they post him up," Smits said. "They go to him so much, it's going to be a tough cover."

A key player for Indiana in the Finals will be Dale Davis, the team's rebounding leader.

"With Shaq it is going to be tough to get rebounds. He's big, he's strong and he's effective under the basket," Davis said. "Now there's a hungry feeling for us. We're right there, and now we have to have a little faith." Help | Advertiser Info | Contact Us | Tools | Site Map | Jobs at
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