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Hornets come out flat, get blown out by Pacers, who advance in play-in

Welcome to playoff basketball, Charlotte.

Well, play-in basketball, but it’s still not the same as the regular season — game plans are more detailed and require focus and execution, particularly on defense. Every possession counts. Charlotte treated the 9/10 play-in game like a random Tuesday night in February, while the Pacers came ready for the postseason.

The result was a blowout from the opening tip — Indiana’s Malcolm Brogdon torched LaMelo Ball from the start, Charlotte defenders packed the paint but then did not rotate out quickly to contest corner 3s (a weakness of the Hornets all season), and defenders kept losing Doug McDermott coming off pin downs (or went under picks) and he scored 16 of his 21 in the first quarter.

Indiana was up double-digits quickly, 40-24 after one quarter, led by 24 at the half, and cruised to a 144-117 win.

With the win, Indiana advances to take on the loser of the 7/8 play-in game in the East between Boston and Washington. The winner of that final game of the East play-in tournament will be the eighth seed in the conference and take on Philadelphia in the playoffs starting over the weekend.

Charlotte’s season is done.

The Hornets focused their game plan on slowing Pacers All-Star center Domantas Sabonis, and he was 1-of-8 shooting in the first half, but he was setting up teammates — McDermott was 7-of-8 in the 24 minutes, Brogdon 5-of-7, and power forward Oshae Brissett shredded the Hornets (epecially when they went small) going 4-of-5 in the first half on his way to a team-high 23 points on the night (on 14 shots).

“Sometimes the defenses are throwing different things at me and I’m just trying to get my guys open for open looks,” Sabonis said on TNT after the game. “Sometimes when they back off, I’ve got to be more aggressive and put the scoring on my shoulders.”

With Sabonis moving the ball — he had nine assists — the Hornets defense was scrambling and lost.

It didn’t help that Charlotte struggled shooting in the first half, going 4-of-19 from 3 (21.1%), but also shooting just 9-of-16 at the rim. McDermott alone had four made 3s in the first half for Indiana.

Indiana finished with balanced scoring, with Brogdon having 16 on the night and Sabonis having 14 points (he was 6-of-7 shooting in the second half), and T.J. McConnell having 17 off the bench.

Miles Bridges led Charlotte with 23 points.

For the Hornets, it was an ugly end to what was still a promising season, one with Ball breaking out as a potential superstar. This young Hornets team learned some harsh lessons about the postseason on Tuesday, but it will be far from their final postseason appearance for their young stars.

A banged-up Pacers team will play Thursday night for a chance to get into the playoffs.