The Pacers have a 13-game home winning streak going into Game 6 at Market Square Arena, where they haven't lost since scoring an NBA record-low 55 points against the San Antonio Spurs on March 29.
"We've just got to bounce back, and we've done that in the past," Rik Smits said Thursday. "We already came back from those first two losses in this series. But obviously, we don't have much time. We've got to win these next two."No team in the 51-year history of the league had scored fewer than 57 points before the Pacers produced that number against the Spurs. But they came back in their next game to score 128 points against the Los Angeles Clippers.
"We have a lot of pride as a team, we have a lot of veterans," Smits said. "Everybody hates to lose on this team, and to lose like we did affects your pride."
Indiana had only four double-digit losses during the regular season - the 19-point loss to San Antonio, a 31-point loss at Detroit and 11- and 12-point losses at Miami and San Antonio in December.
Until losing Games 1 and 2 in this series, the Pacers hadn't lost two in a row since Dec. 8-10.
Indiana was involved in a seventh game in each of its two previous trips to the Eastern Con-fer-ence finals.
In 1994, the Pacers lost Game 6 at home and Game 7 on the road against New York. In 1995, the Pacers won Game 6 at home by 27 points and lost Game 7 at Orlando by 24 points.
GARBAGE TIME: One of the byproducts of Chicago's blowout victory in Game 5 was the extended garbage time that brought minutes to each team's lowest-ranking reserves.
Backup center Mark West of Indiana, the only player on the Pacers' roster with NBA Finals experience (Phoenix, 1993), saw his first action of the series and made his only shot.
Fred Hoiberg of the Pacers was on the court for 17 minutes, including some quality time in the first half when he was asked to defend Michael Jordan. He finished with six points on 2-for-7 shooting.
Jud Buechler of the Bulls, whose playing time has shrunk to almost nothing despite his solid performance off the bench the past two seasons, missed all four of his shots to remain the only player still scoreless in this series.
"It was a little frustrating, but I haven't played in a long time," Buechler told the Chicago Tribune. "Usually I don't play for four or five games, it's not that big of a deal. But it's been like three or four months - seriously."
CENTERS OF ATTENTION: Both starting centers could be wearing new uniforms next season. Luc Longley of Chicago and Rik Smits of Indiana will be free agents at the conclusion of the playoffs.
"It's strange, very strange," Longley said. "Even for making summer plans. It would be nice if I could sign early in the summer and know what is going to happen. But I may spend all summer not knowing whether to put my house on the market or what."
The Pacers have maintained they will try to re-sign Smits, who is expected to command a salary of $10-$12 million.
The Bulls haven't publicly stated their intentions regarding Longley, who has spent 41/2 years in Chicago after playing his first 21/2 seasons in Minnesota.
"I would rather stay here, given my druthers," Longley said, "if the Jerrys (Krause and Reinsdorf) decide they want me back and they'll pay me what I'm worth. That will be debatable, I'm sure."
POPE'S BENEDICTION: Indiana rookie center Mark Pope was caught off-guard earlier this season when he was told to come up with a motivational slogan in the Pacers' pregame huddle.
"I was like, `Uh, guys, let's go play really, really good," Pope said. "They were mad at me. It was such a rookie thing to do."
Despite his initial jitters, Pope has become the designated sloganeer in the Pacers' pregame huddle.
The 6-foot-10, 235 pound forward, cut by a pro team in Turkey a year ago, has seen limited action in four of the five games in the Eastern Conference finals.
QUOTABLE: Pacers coach Larry Bird, on Chicago coach Phil Jackson's use of Zen philosophy: "I don't even know how to spell Zen."