INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -Coach Rick Carlisle said all the right things less than 24 hours after his Indiana Pacers were knocked out of playoff contention for the first time in a decade.
He said they had a good practice and will be ready for Tuesday's game at Atlanta.
But he struggled whenever he uttered the phrase ``out of the playoffs.'' And his boyish face looked more drained Monday than perhaps at any point in the past two tumultuous years.
The Pacers will close their season at home against Washington on Wednesday. Carlisle said it will be business as usual, but his gloomy demeanor made his words a tough sell.
``You don't approach it any differently because you're out of the playoffs,'' Carlisle said. ``You come in and you try to get better and you try to win those last couple.''
Darrell Armstrong is among the most disappointed Pacers.
The 38-year-old reserve point guard was traded from the Dallas Mavericks to the Pacers in the offseason, and he fully expected to be in the playoffs again. Now, the Mavericks have the league's best record and Armstrong will be watching them chase the NBA title.
Armstrong, who became a crowd favorite in Indiana with his hustle and energy, is struggling to figure out what happened.
``This is one of the best franchises I've played for, and for us to not be in the playoffs is tough,'' he said. ``This franchise deserves so much better than what it's been getting the last couple of years, and we just really made it a downfall.''
Statistically, the last two games won't bear much significance for the Pacers aside from producing a score.
The Pacers have too good a record to regain the first-round draft pick they offered Atlanta in the Al Harrington trade and too bad a record to make the playoffs. They'll be in the draft lottery, but with not much chance of landing one of the top picks.
Carlisle still tried to put a positive spin on the final two games, despite the worst season for the franchise since 1988-89.
``Our guys like winning,'' Carlisle said. ``Even though it's been a tough season and we're not in the playoffs, anything we can do to end this thing on a positive note is significant.''
Carlisle is considering sitting injured starters Jermaine O'Neal and Jamaal Tinsley for the final two games. O'Neal has struggled with a left knee injury, while Tinsley has fought a sore left foot and hamstring for the past month and a sore right elbow for the past two weeks.
``We want to do anything possible to win them, but we're not going to risk anybody's health situation to do it,'' Carlisle said.
Carlisle said young players might get a closer look.
``We'll see what presents itself,'' he said. ``We've been pretty liberal in playing everybody the whole year, and for the most part, guys have kept themselves ready and done a good job when they've been called upon.''
Second-year forward Danny Granger said after the loss to New Jersey Sunday that knocked the Pacers from playoff contention that he's ready to look ahead.
``It's a disappointing feeling,'' he said. ``You have to put it behind you and move on to next season.''

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