by Kent Sterling
The way the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat are playing as they limp toward the end of the NBA’s regular season, fans might think neither team values home court advantage through the first three rounds of the playoffs.
When Miami lost Saturday night in Atlanta, and the Pacers beat the Oklahoma City Thunder yesterday, the Pacers moved to within one win (or a Heat loss) from the regular season Eastern Conference championship.
What’s the difference between playing at home and on the road? After all, as we learned in “Hoosiers” the rim is at 10-feet and the free throw line is 15-feet from the bucket in all of the world’s gyms. Can staying in a really nice hotel and being booed really make that big a difference in the level of play?
Whatever the meaningful or cosmetic differences between playing at Bankers Life Fieldhouse and other arenas across the country, the Pacers really enjoy home cooking. Over the past 41 games – when the Pacers put together a thoroughly mediocre 22-19 record – the Pacers have still been a very good 14-5 at home. Away from Indy, they are 8-14.
Against playoff teams during that stretch, the Pacers are 6-4 at home and 2-8 on the road. The difference is even more stark against competition from the East. At the Fieldhouse, the Pacers are 4-1 against playoff teams in the East, and 1-4 on the road. Interestingly, I suppose, the lone loss at home and win on the road came against the same team – the team that is the likely first round playoff opponent – the Atlanta Hawks.
There is plenty of time to talk about the challenges the Hawks present as an eight seed (speed that may render Roy Hibbert of little use, the difficulty in defending Jeff Teague, keeping sharpshooter Kyle Korver from getting space needed to fire bombs, etc…), but the Hawks are in fact the only team in the Eastern Conference playoffs to beat the Pacers at the Fieldhouse.
The Pacers were 2-0 at home against Miami, Toronto, Chicago, Brooklyn, and Washington. They were 1-0 against Charlotte. One the road, the Pacers were 0-2 against Miami, Toronto, Chicago, and Charlotte, 0-1 against Washington, 2-0 at Brooklyn, and 1-1 against Atlanta.
That’s why the Pacers have acknowledged earning home court through the East as their overriding goal since the moment the lights went out on the 2013 postseason in Miami.
If Miami loses tonight in Washington or the Pacers can beat Orlando Wednesday (forget about the Heat losing the season finale against the brutally bad Philadelphia 76ers), the race is over, and the Pacers will host the first two games and the last in every series they play until the finals.
All that work over 5 1/2 months just to host one additional game against the Miami Heat. The Pacers found out how important that is last year during the game seven blowout loss in Miami.
With all the less than stellar basketball played since January 20th when Indiana beat Golden State to run their record to 33-7, the Pacers are still right where they wanted to be when the season started.
Twenty-three turnovers in yesterday’s game showed there is still a lot of work to do, but the win against one of the NBA’s best put on display the borderline greatness of which this team is capable – at least at home.
Despite the struggles and hysterics from fans and media, everything the Pacers wanted is right there for the taking. And it’s a hell of a lot more likely to happen if they can host four out of seven in every series until the finals.