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Bulls Send Pacers Into An Intriguing Offseason

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It was much easier this way.

The Chicago Bulls' 27-point win over the Indiana Pacers was painful to watch but lack of late drama made digesting the inevitable a little easier. There would be now heartbreak in Game 5. Just a final dose of reality for the Pacers to face before heading into what promises to be one crazy offseason.

The Pacers out-played the Bulls for the vast majority of the first four games of the series but were left with far more coulda, woulda, shoulda's than wins. But from the opening tip in the United Center on Tuesday night, the Bulls clearly stepped up and threw their best game at the Pacers.

Try as they might to hang around, the Pacers couldn't shake the familiar woes that did them in throughout the regular season. The defense that seemingly appeared out of nowhere to give the Bulls fits in the first four games, had nothing in the tank as the Bulls had their way from behind the arc and at the rim while scoring 36 first-quarter points.

Add to that several sloppy turnovers, many of which led to buckets at the other end. Bunches of buckets, in fact as the Bulls scored 34 points on the Pacers 21 turnovers. That alone is enough for an easy Bulls' win, but you throw in 15 points from Keith Bogans and you have Chicago rolling on to round two.

NBA labor strife or not, this summer promises to be full of intrigue for the Pacers. For starters, Jamaal Tinsley will officially disappear from the team's salary cap, part of $30 million in cap space. Of course, that cap is subject to change, but regardless, the Pacers have five open roster spots with T.J. Ford, Mike Dunleavy, Josh McRoberts, Solomon Jones and Jeff Foster all heading onto the free agent market. Plus, A.J. Price has a non-guaranteed contract for next season so that puts six roster spots in play.

And so the offseason begins, but thanks to a fantastic showing in the playoffs, the Pacers have left us wanting more and looking forward to the next stage in the development of the young core players that came up so big under the bright lights of their first playoff experience.

Those coulda, shoulda, woulda's against Chicago will have to be fuel for the young guys to continue growing and expanding their games. Thanks to the strong close to the season and even stronger showing in the post-season, the Pacers should have a far better feel for just what they have on the roster and where all the strengths and weaknesses lie.

So as the sound of the final buzzer at the United Center fades away, the work in preparation for next season is ready to begin.