by Kent Sterling
There are 82 games in an NBA regular season. Bringing great focus to each one is not possible for sane and balanced people.
During a season, there are up nights, down nights, and mediocre nights. The Indiana Pacers had a whole lot of good during the early portion of the season when they opened with nine straight wins. There has been very little bad, but the mediocre is creeping into what fans hope is a championship season.
The Pacers are 8-6 in games played since January 20th – one month ago today. Two of those losses have come to Phoenix, and one each to Dallas, Denver, Orlando, and Minnesota. The Suns and Mavericks are good Western Conference teams, but the Nuggets, Magic, and Timberwolves all have sub .500 records, and represented tests the Pacers should have passed.
While it would be good for fans – and great for gamblers – if NBA teams won every game they are supposed to, that doesn’t always happen, and who’s to say who should win every game? Sure teams are favored, but there are no amateurs on the floor during an NBA game. No professional should step onto the floor knowing they are going to lose.
There are going to be ups and downs for every team, and the Pacers really haven’t had a down. They’ve had some sideways, but not many downs.
Partly because of their recent run of average play, and partly because they were dominant during the early portion of the season, the Pacers still hold a two-game advantage over the two-time defending champion Miami Heat.
There are two games remaining against the Heat, so home court is now in their control, but did anyone expect that the Heat would willingly recede into the Pacers shadow? Love or hate them, the Heat haven’t won championships because they allow teams to psychologically beat them.
Michael Jordan’s 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls were the only team I’ve seen bring it every single night. Not only did the finish with an all-time best 72-10 record, but took only 18 games to steamroll through Miami, New York, Orlando, and Seattle in the playoffs to begin their second three-peat.
Even more incredible, the Bulls lost only one game by more than 10 points, and their last three defeats were each by a single point. That team lost one game badly, a 102-74 nightmare to the Knicks at Madison Square Garden that likely still keeps Jordan awake at night.
The next six games loom large for the Pacers as four are at home, and all but one are against the league’s bottom feeders. After that, the Pacers play 14 of their last 22 on the road with two against the Heat.
Two of the last three games of the regular season are against the Heat and Oklahoma City. If the Pacers want to salt away home court, beating teams with losing records is a must, and the more decisive the wins, the more minutes David West, Roy Hibbert, and Paul George can sit to save themselves for the tough games.
It’s said that early games during an NBA season measure talent, and that games late in the season measure heart and discipline. If that’s true, the Pacers have plenty of talent, and over the next 28 games will find out whether they have the cardiac capacity to capture home court throughout the playoffs.
And once the playoffs start, it will get really interesting. That’s when the Pacers and their fans will find out if they are champions.