Pacers 136, Wizards 112
Frank Vogel never doubted his Indiana Pacers.
In his early weeks as interim coach, he often talked as though Indiana's presence in the postseason would be a foregone conclusion, even though he took over a team that was 10 games under .500.
His team backed up his confidence.
Danny Granger scored 25 points, and the Indiana Pacers clinched a playoff spot for the first time since 2006 with a 136-112 victory against the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night.
Indiana improved to 19-16 under Vogel, who turned the team's fortunes despite going with a younger lineup that won while experiencing growing pains.
''It's a credit to Frank and his staff,'' Granger said. ''Granted, we still have some problems, and we had some problems along the way, but with the time they had to rehaul the team and do things differently, I think they did a great job.''
The Pacers needed a win and a Charlotte loss to Orlando on Wednesday to clinch a playoff berth. As the Pacers' game ended, the Orlando-Charlotte game was in overtime, and the Conseco Fieldhouse staff put the game on the Jumbotron. Many fans stayed to cheer to the Magic on to a 111-102 win.
Vogel was thankful when his bold prediction became reality.
''I'm just really, really happy for a lot of people,'' he said. ''I'm so happy for our fans. It's going to be a fun ride.''
Vogel took over for Jim O'Brien, who coached the team for 3 1/2 seasons. Pacers veteran Jeff Foster said O'Brien deserves some of the credit.
''He's (Vogel) a disciple of O.B.,'' Foster said. ''I have the utmost respect for O.B., and I'm sad that he's not around to get a chance to experience this with us, because this was his goal as well, and he's built this to where we are now.''
The berth has special meaning for several Pacers.
It will be the first playoff appearance for veteran Mike Dunleavy.
''It feels great, but I really didn't think it would take nine years to do this,'' he said. ''I am really happy that I am here and could do it with such a class organization.''
Reserve forward Josh McRoberts, an Indiana native, nearly was sent packing before the trade deadline.
''It's an honor to get back to the playoffs, to be a part of that,'' he said. ''It's cool to be able to see it through.'' Paul George scored a career-high 23 points and Darren Collison added 15 points and 11 assists for the Pacers, who posted their second-highest point total of the season.
Jordan Crawford scored 29 points and Andray Blatche added 23 for Washington. John Wall had 19 points and nine rebounds.
Indiana shot 60 percent from the field and the Wizards allowed the most points they have in a game this season.
''Energy caught up to us,'' Washington coach Flip Saunders said. ''I was worried before the game. Guys just didn't seem to have that pep in their step. We almost really lost the game in the first seven minutes.''
Granger, who was averaging 20.4 points coming in, ended a streak of five straight games under 20 points.
Dunleavy scored 14 points after scoring 15 points on Sunday in a loss at New Orleans. The former starter missed 20 straight games with a broken left thumb, but has played the past four games and appears to be returning to form.
Indiana led 75-56 at halftime and had five players score in double figures.
Washington's Crawford and Blatche each scored 20 points in the first half, yet the Wizards weren't even in the game. It was the most points the Wizards have allowed in a first half all season.
Granger scored eight points in the first 2:26 of the second half as Indiana extended its lead to 85-60. Indiana scored its 100th point on a free throw by Tyler Hansbrough with 4:03 left in the third quarter after a Flagrant 1 call against Blatche.
It was a sometimes chippy game that included five technical fouls and the flagrant on Blatche.
The Pacers kept their composure.
''A lot of young guys have shown a lot of growth throughout the year,'' Foster said. ''We've had some highs, some lows, but this is the time of year, where, as Reggie Miller said, you make your money.''
Foster said the team will have to learn about playoff basketball on the fly.
''These guys have to realize that this is a whole new stage, a whole new beast we're getting ready to experience. They have to approach it a different way in the next week and a half.''
NOTES: Blatche scored 16 points in the first quarter. ... Washington fell to 3-36 on the road. ... Despite the playoff push, the Pacers drew just 14,222. ... Quite a few fans made the drive to support former Kentucky star Wall. Indianapolis is a three-hour drive from Lexington, Ky. He finished with 19 points and nine assists for the Wizards.