Indy braces for Heat wave

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WASHINGTON -- They started at the top, now they're here.

The Indiana Pacers have been a soap opera over the past three months. The schadenfreude/rubbernecking factor has been high, their near-collapse launching a million conversations and Internet comments.

What do the Pacers think about all that now that they're back in the Eastern Conference finals for a rematch against the Miami Heat after eliminating the Washington Wizards with a 93-80 Game 6 road victory Thursday night?

The thumping bass rattling the visiting locker room said it all.

The song choice as they celebrated their victory, D.J. Khaled's "They Don't Love You No More," might as well be the team's anthem at this point.

Should someone have pointed out the irony that D.J. Khaled is a Miami-based rapper and frequent courtside Heat fan? Not on this night.

"This year we had a lot more naysayers, but we blocked that out," said Roy Hibbert, who has had his share of ups and downs this season.

"We like it when everybody is talking about us," Lance Stephenson said. "Everybody has been talking about us and bringing us down."

The Pacers have quite a task ahead of them -- the two-time champs have generally blasted their way through the first two rounds -- but this was not the time to worry about that. After wheezing through the first round against the Atlanta Hawks in seven games, then getting historically embarrassed in a once-in-a-generation rebounding landslide while whiffing on a closeout game earlier this week, the Pacers were enjoying a rare moment.

After all the hotly contested games and borderline upsets, the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds have reached the East finals, and the Pacers will host Game 1 on Sunday.

"I'm proud of the way we've handled ourselves this last month or so," David West said. "It's been tough both mentally and physically, but we've been able persevere and get to this."

West carried the Pacers in Game 6, playing one of the finest playoff games of his career by scoring 29 points, 18 of which came in the second half. The Wizards, who ended the postseason an inexplicable 1-4 at home and 5-1 on the road, tried to throw some body blows, but West kept the Pacers ahead with one clutch shot after another.

The Pacers haven't been able to totally recapture their midseason form when they were lapping the league, but there have been signs. The Pacers are now 6-2 in these playoffs since going down 3-2 to the Hawks and have swept their past four road games, which is meaningful in the postseason, no matter the circumstances.

After the Wizards went on a run to take a 74-73 lead with 8:30 to play Thursday, the Pacers wrapped the inexperienced opponent like a boa constrictor defensively with Hibbert protecting the rim and the Pacers' perimeter players smothering pick-and-rolls. It was a 20-6 Pacers run the rest of the way, with West drilling three jumpers and Indiana executing like a genuine No. 1 seed to wipe the upstarts out of the postseason.

"We're going to trust who we are," West said. "We've never lost our confidence that we can win tough games against tough teams."

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