MIAMI FL - FEBRUARY 08: Lance Stephenson #6 of the Indiana Pacers posts up Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat during a game at American Airlines Arena on February 8 2011 in Miami Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and/or using this Photograph User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
The Pacers have really taken to their fresh start; not only have they gone 7-1, but they’ve been able to separate themselves amongst likeminded teams over the past two weeks by beating each one they’ve faced. Guys are showing solid and jovial improvement, and the fanbase is the happiest it’s been in years. But nothing has been more unsettling in this stretch than the one blemish, a 117-112 loss in Miami a week ago. Unlike most games featuring championship contenders and teams fighting to get into the playoffs, the Pacers left the game feeling they let one get away instead of feeling good about being in it.
And everything about the game pointed to the fact that they did let one get away. The Pacers led the Heat by double digits at two separate points, fighting off each Heat advance, but ultimately, it was LeBron James, in a competitive mode he’s often joked about not having, lifting his team on his shoulders and escaping with a hard fought victory, ultimately taking task to guard the biggest thorn for Miami: Darren Collison. Indiana was blindsided and weren’t able to adjust in part to a poor fourth quarter from Danny Granger, but also thanks to a struggling night from the Pacers’ wings, but Indiana fought the Heat that close, and to go alongside their win in South Beach in November (still Miami’s biggest home lost), currently sit in the season series tied at 1-1.
What does that mean? Well, generally, below .500 teams like the Pacers often build up games against top tier opponents. It’s rare the feeling is mutual, but with Miami, it is. While they may have initially planned on crushing Indiana as a bout of revenge similar to the one the Lakers dished out earlier this season, it quickly turned into a game with legitimate implications. It felt like a playoff game. And not just any game, but an elimination game. Suddenly, we saw the Miami Heat play like a game in February mattered. And it wasn’t against the Boston Celtics. Regardless of your opinion of James, you rarely see him as focused as you did in this game. The Miami Heat weren’t going to lose, but likewise, the Pacers weren’t going to let them win.
Ultimately, the Pacers walked away with the loss, but the schedule turned what originally looked like an unfair couple of close games into a golden opportunity; they get to play the Heat at home one week later, tomorrow night. If the Heat played like they were on the brink of elimination in the last game, the Pacers need to do the same on Tuesday. For all the talk we give the playoffs as a reasonable, suddenly expected result to this season, lost in most of it is how the team would actually perform in the playoffs. But here is our chance to find out.
The recent loss burns for Indiana, and if Miami wasn’t looking at this game in the same light as lasts, their view has surely changed following yesterday’s loss in Boston. Between now and April, no game will give Indiana a better opportunity to gauge their chances, their coach, their talent, and their assurance than this game. The postseason is all about adjustments, and here is Indiana’s chance to adjust.
Not only will the Pacers need an answer for James on Collison, but they’ll need better offensive showings from the wing players, all while continuing to keep Dwyane Wade’s impact at a minimum. What keys and adjustments do you think the Pacers will need to make if they hope to grab the win and extend their winning streak, possibly showing they can compete in the playoffs if they make it in?