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Howard added that he was proud of Hibbert, because Hibbert seems to be maturing, becoming a solid NBA player. That, of course, must cease, too, because if the Pacers are to be the sort of team they want to be, rivals eventually must dislike it when you play well.
The Pacers aren’t there yet, but alhough they’re not close, nights such as the one from Hibbert Tuesday offer hope. He shot 10 of 19. He was effective underneath. He was accurate from outside.
With Hibbert scoring 18 first-half points and forcing Howard into early foul trouble, the Pacers didn’t dominate from the start, but they never allowed Orlando to lead after the half, and after the Magic tied it 68-68 with 11:23 remaining, the Pacers pulled steadily away.
Luther Head added 18 points for Indiana and F Dahntay Jones had 13 points, with F Mike Dunleavy – who has struggled in the last two weeks – shooting 4 of 13 for 11 points, with nine rebounds.
The crowd at Conseco Fieldhouse was enthusiastic. The Pacers played with energy, the crowd responded, and the Pacers responded in kind.
“Sometimes, it’s amazing what the crowd can do for you, and they got us into the game tonight,” said Hibbert, who remained a storyline after the quick start.
His turnaround jumper with 3:40 remaining beat the 24-second clock and pushed the Pacers’ lead to 90-78. With 2:30 remaining, his feed led to a layup by Head and kept Indiana’s lead at 11.
Hibbert, a second-year veteran, has scored 20 more points in three of four games.
“I’m just trying to be consistent,” Hibbert said. “I can’t have games where I play well against one guy, then two or three games where I don’t play well. I have to be able to do it all the time.”
That was a credo Hibbert said applied to the whole team.
“We have to learn from those losses – no excuses, no back to backs,” Hibbert said after shooting 10 of 19. “You can’t have excuses. We just had to learn from that last game and move on.”
The Pacers, still playing without All-Star F Danny Granger, as well as rookie F Tyler Hansbrough, C Greg Foster and F Troy Murphy, started a different lineup for the fifth time in six games and for the 13th time this season. Still, as players noted, that’s no excuses in the NBA and as they also noted, there have been flashes. There also remains hope that the injured players will return, and that a game such as Tuesday’s can turn around what has been a more difficult season than any player imagine.
“That’s NBA basketball,” Pacers G Earl Watson said. “It’s a long season. A team can change at any given moment. We’re just trying to change our team for the positive.”
To expect Tuesday’s victory to drastically alter the season’s dynamic may be asking a bit much. But what the victory was give a good feeling to a team that lately has been looking for a reason to smile.
“The first thing I said to the guys in the locker room in New York is, ‘It’s one game, – don’t overreact,’ ” O’Brien said. “We didn’t, and we came back and played an excellent ballgame.”
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