These are the games that the IndianaPacershave to win. They have no other option. Despite the ChicagoBulls getting thrown around by the Miami Heat like a chew toy this evening; there is an evident truth that cannot be ignored: The battle for the Central Division and the Eastern Conference’s top spot allows absolutely no room for nights off.
What happened last season was exactly what couldn’t happen tonight. Beating the Orlando Magic—no matter the score—had to be done. It sounds silly doesn’t it? A perennial juggernaut like Indiana making a big about the Orlando’s, Charlotte’s, Sacramento’s and Phoenix’s of the NBA.
But the mindset and preparation that it is just as important to come into the game like it’s the last of the season is vital to the Pacers hopes at a repeat-division title while vying for the East’s No.1 seed come May.
“We just have to handle our business. We can only control the games that we play in and when it’s time for us to play we have to go out there and do whatever we have to do to win because we intend to be in the hunt for the number one seed come playoff time,” DavidWest said. “We talk about (defending our central division title) because the larger scope is if we are at the top, battling for the top spot in the East we will have a shot at winning our division.”
The Pacers are going to give the Western Conference’s best fits and, more than likely, steal a few from their head-to-head with Miami as well as try and win the season series against Chicago. But it’s the games against these teams destined to have a lottery pick in next summer’s draft that will absolutely put a wrench in the side of West’s and the Pacers’ aspirations.
Running out to a 12-0 lead is the start this Pacers team has been capable of for the last two seasons. Relinquishing that lead to a tie or a two point lead by halftime is what the Pacers are apparently still capable of doing. However, the second half let down and lack of production from the bench last season appears to be absent; a sign that the Indiana Pacers are finally committed to meeting their potential.
Two bench players in particular kept the minds of Pacers fans at ease while the starters rested. Second-year guard Orlando Johnson contributed nine points and showed a glimmer of life beyond Danny Granger and the questions that remain surrounding his injury issues. But the bench player that Pacers fans have to be the most satisfied with was newly acquired Luis Scola who replaces the estranged Tyler Hansbrough. Scola’s mid-range jumper helped him to an eight point effort that kept the Magic at bay during a strong second half from the Pacers’ bench.
“He (Scola) just has a great feel to the game, a great savvy and a great will. We talk about David West’s will all the time to do anything necessary to get a win and Luis has the same type of will,” Head Coach Frank Vogel said. “His ability to space the floor with his mid-range jumper, shot fake and ability to make plays off the bounce as a big man is such a valuable weapon.”
That is the difference maker. Scola, C.J. Watson, Johnson and especially Ian Mahinmi’s relief of Hibbert is what the Pacers appear to have gained from off-season acquisitions and practices building the chemistry and back bone of this team. That’s what’s going to make Indiana a true challenger for the NBA title. This team is deep and when the bench adds the type of play like they did tonight, pulling away and maintaining a lead, there may not be another team in the NBA outside of the San Antonio Spurs and the Heat that can contend.
Look, it is the first game of 82. I get it. I’m not implying that the Pacers are going to be hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy but the fact is the Pacers finished 49-32 last season with 11 of those 32 losses coming to teams with records below .500. Indiana essentially washed wins against teams like Miami, Chicago, New York etc. with losses to Orlando, Philadelphia, Washington and so-on.
The Pacers aren’t going to win every single game, but they simply have to win the games that shouldn’t be in question. Basketball isn’t an any-given night sport when you were one game away from the NBA Finals. If this is the Indiana Pacers team we are going to see night in and night out we may be on the verge of a 60-win season.
Corey Elliot is a Beat Writer at the Indiana Sports Report and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association. He is recognized as accredited member of the media by the Pacers and has full media access.
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