On one side of the locker room, the crowd gathered around the smiling face of Lance Stephenson, who was celebrating his first career triple-double, a performance that helped the Pacers push their best-ever start to 8-0.
On the other side sat the stoic visage of David West. There were fewer cameras and microphones, but the conversation was no less substantial.
You see, West has been here before.
He knows what it’s like to start 8-0, knows the rush of adrenaline, knows the surge of confidence, knows about the showers of media attention.
And he knows what they all ultimately mean: Not much.
“We’re just not going to react to it,” he said of the streak. “It’s cool that we’re able to pick up wins as the year wears on but it’s still very early. We know it’s going to get tougher but we’ve got to continue to stay focused.”
The last NBA team to open the season with eight victories was New Orleans in 2010-11, a team led by West and Chris Paul. This was a talented group that had tasted some postseason success but had not found a way to break through into the elite.
The Hornets, as they were then known, followed that 8-0 start with 10 losses in 16 games. Later in the season they won 10 in a row but lost 12 of 16. West injured his knee in late March, the team wound up 46-36 and lost to the Lakers in the first round.
End of story, end of team. West signed with the Pacers. Paul was traded to the Clippers.
So you’ll excuse West if he isn’t swept up in this fast start, if he is trying to help his young teammates maintain the proper perspective, which is this: the playoffs are five months away.“We’ve just got to focus on the things we can control,” West said. “We can control our preparation, we can control our approach to the game, and ultimately we can control how hard we play and how well we execute when we’re out there on the floor. That’s what our focus has to be one, the things we can control.”
Because of the presence of level-headed veterans such as West, the Pacers have avoided the peaks and valleys that can come with the emergence of a team centered around young stars. Their longest losing streak last season was three games, and they did not win more than five in a row.
And there is nothing flukish about their current streak. They haven’t ridden a hot player, or stolen some games they should’ve lost, or taken advantage of a soft schedule. Quite the contrary. Their last five wins came in seven nights and included conquests of the Bulls, Nets and Grizzlies.
With the league’s best defense and dramatically improved depth, they are built for the long haul.
What they must do to capitalize on this streak, to make the most of it, is to understand it for what it truly is: a temporary state of exhilaration. Those leads of three games on Miami in the East and four on Chicago in the Central are hard-earned, but hardly conclusive.
“My message to our guys is to ignore the cushion,” Frank Vogel said. “We know Miami’s going to go on a 10-game win streak, Chicago’s going to go on a 10-game win streak at some point, Brooklyn might go on a 10-game win streak. We need every single win to compete for what we’re competing for.”
This moment is remarkable, historic and should be thoroughly appreciated by all involved.
But it is just the beginning.