They have a chance to make an impression on a couple of the other top contenders in the Eastern Conference in an incredibly busy, challenging week that begins with three games in three nights.
With Chicago coming to Bankers Life Fieldhouse tonight in the game originally scheduled for Dec. 26 but postponed by a blizzard, followed by Atlanta on Tuesday night, the Pacers’ homecourt dominance will be tested. Their endurance will then be measured Wednesday in Philadelphia, a team very much in the playoff picture.
Their 13-game home win streak includes two victories over Miami, including an impressive 102-89 decision Friday, and five others against teams currently in playoff position (the Knicks, Bucks, Grizzlies, Jazz and Rockets). In the process, the Pacers have re-established themselves as true contenders in the East, though not too many seem to have noticed.
“Everything we do from day one of training camp is about building confidence because you can only go as far as your team believes they can go,” said Coach Frank Vogel. “Any time you beat a great team like Miami, it just builds confidence. To be on the streak we’re on at home, taking care of our home business, we want to try to be dominant at home, and we’re getting there.”
STRONG PERFORMANCES AGAINST MIAMI
Both victories over Miami came by double digits, and both came with the Heat players rested and motivated. And they both came by similar methods: solid defense on James and Wade, full containment of the complementary 3-point shooters (including two of the three shutouts pitched at Ray Allen in his career) and premium performances from Paul George (44 points, 17 rebounds, eight assists, eight steals combined) and David West (44 points, 18 rebounds).
“They’re a good basketball team, especially at home,” said Miami’s LeBron James. “They are not as good on the road. They’re kind of like us in that regard, a great team at home, struggling a little on the road.
“Have they improved? Yes, they’ve improved. The biggest improvement is with Paul George. That’s why he’s an All-Star.”
The good news for the Pacers is they’ve put most of their road games behind them and are in the midst of the homiest stretch of the season, with seven of the next eight and 10 of 11 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
OPPORTUNITY TO MAKE A MOVE
This could prove a crucial time for the Pacers in their battle with the Bulls in the Central Division. Chicago plays seven of nine on the road, with the only home games in that span against the Spurs and Heat.
The Bulls have been decimated by injuries but haven’t exactly struggled; Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Kirk Hinrich missed their game Saturday against Atlanta and yet they crushed the Hawks 93-76.
Though they have struggled on the road, the Pacers have been fully in control at home. The current streak already is their longest in a decade. Two more wins will make the third-longest in club NBA history. Indiana is on pace to win 35 home games, which would be most since the 36-5 mark of the 1999-00 season.
“I don’t really know, we just play well in this building this year,” Vogel said. “Last year we had double-digit home losses but the record was pretty good, 23-10 or something like that – but it wasn’t dominant.
“We want to be dominant here. I don’t know if their intensity has been greater because of that but it’s definitely been something we’ve talked about.”
The defense has been one of the league’s best all season, the offense is beginning to come around and even Roy Hibbert has started to make some shots, hitting 47 percent from the field in the last nine games.
With Danny Granger cleared for full contact and on track for a return within the next couple of weeks, the pieces are beginning to fall into place.