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Unpredictable playoffs give scrappy Pacers hope

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

So why shouldn’t the Indiana Pacers believe they can beat the Bulls in Game 5 tonight at the United Center?

This season, the NBA playoffs are resembling the topsy-turvy NCAA tournament.

‘‘Yes, it does look like the NCAA tournament, where the best teams or the teams with the best record are not winning,” Pacers forward Danny Granger said. “So it’s good to see some surprises in the NBA.”

In the West, the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies are up 3-1 on the San Antonio Spurs, and the seventh-seeded New Orleans Hornets are tied 2-2 with the Los Angeles Lakers.

“I always thought Memphis was an underrated team, anyway,” Pacers forward Tyler Hansbrough said. “But I’m not comparing us to any of those guys because they’ve all won a lot more games.”

In the East, the Boston Celtics will get extra rest after sweeping the New York Knicks. But the eighth-seeded Pacers, down 3-1, and the seventh-seeded Philadelphia 76ers, down 3-1 against the Miami Heat, have forced fifth games.

“We’re really just worried about our series, honestly,” Granger said. “We’re just trying to go get a win [tonight], and we know we can. . . . We have them shooting under 40 percent [39.8] from the field, we’re forcing more turnovers, battling them better on the boards and finally shooting more free throws.”

Perhaps the biggest reason the Pacers have been so competitive is their bench.

During the regular season, the Bulls’ bench usually outplayed opposing reserves. After being outscored 25-23 in Game 1, the Pacers’ bench has outscored the Bulls’ 103-57 in the last three games.

“Because we’re a deep team, our bench has played well all season,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said after his bench outscored the Bulls’ 43-22 in Game 2. “That’s why we felt no need to shorten our rotation to seven or eight players like most playoff teams do.”

So Vogel has been using 11 players, the same as Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau.

Pacers reserve guards A.J. Price and Dahntay Jones and forwards Jeff Foster and Josh McRoberts have been key contributors every game, defensively and offensively. Jones’ tight, physical defense is even believed to be wearing out Bulls star Derrick Rose.

The Pacers don’t believe Rose will be hampered by a sprained left ankle suffered in the first quarter of Game 4.

“In the NBA, nobody is ever 100 percent,” Granger said. “Something is always hurting you.”

Vogel said he expects Rose to be 100 percent and will hound him with Jones, Brandon Rush and Paul George.

“Anybody who has played knows that when you sprain an ankle, it’s sore a little bit until you play and the adrenaline starts flowing,” Vogel said. “Then you pretty much don’t feel it. So we expect him to be 100 percent.”

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