by Kent Sterling
After the Miami Heat used their home court advantage to bludgeon the Indiana Pacers in Game Seven of the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals, the Pacers made it their goal not to allow it to happen again.
And after Heat’s overwhelmingly one-sided 114-93 loss tonight to the Washington Wizards, the Pacers will not have to play a game seven on the road until the NBA Finals, and frankly if the Pacers could shift time to two months from now and find themselves facing a game seven in San Antonio or Oklahoma City, they would gladly take it.
With home court hanging in the balance, the decision to rest the best player since Michael Jordan seemed odd, but the Pacers are hardly going to argue. The goal was the top seed, and however it comes is fine with them.
That the Heat players brought no energy defensively in allowing the 43-38 Wizards to hit better than 70% of their field goal attempts in the first half, and 59% overall for the game is not the stuff of champions regardless of who is sitting and who’s playing.
The Eastern Conference Finals are a long way off for both the Pacers and Heat as neither team is playing its best basketball of the season – or anything resembling it. Eighty-two games is a lot of basketball to jam into 5 1/2 months, and while the Pacers were playing 18 games in March with 11 on the road, the energy and prideful defense that led them to a 33-7 record on January 20th morphed from part of the team’s DNA to sporadic visitor.
Before anyone writes off the Pacers because of their recent 4-8 skid, the Pacers are a combined 12-1 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse against the other seven playoff teams from the East. They are a damn tough out at home, and that’s why expending all that energy to arrest home court from the Heat wasn’t a waste.
Yes, the Pacers embarrassed themselves at Bankers Life Fieldhouse against Atlanta last week scoring only 23 points in the first half of a 108-89 loss, but it’s still the only home loss against a team from the East all the way back to December 16th against the Detroit Pistons. It shocked me to start counting the wins versus the East at home to find they have won 15 of their last 16.
The local and national media are gnashing their teeth over the Pacers recent wobbles, but even as the season unraveled a little bit, the Pacers were still very formidable at home. There might be a few seven game series that lie between the Pacers and a trip to the Finals, but betting against them in any of those games is a dangerous financial choice.
Bumps and jolts lie ahead for the Pacers and their fans, but if they have shown anything during this long regular season, it has been resilience. That’s going to come in handy starting this weekend against the Atlanta Hawks.