Have they cleaned up the confetti yet in Indianapolis?
OK, maybe that is raining on the Pacers parade a little bit. It was a nice win last night, a great win really when you consider what was at stake — validation as a team that can truly compete with the Heat, validation as a team that has the mental capacity to shake off the jitters and make a comeback when things seem utterly hopeless — such as the moment when they were falling behind by 13 in the first half and George Hill was looking like Andre Drummond at the free throw line, tossing up an airball.
We get to see these two teams go after each other again next week, in Miami.
And that game, to me, is even more of a validation game for the Pacers than Tuesday night’s tilt. It is one thing to hold home court and hand the Heat their third loss in five games at a time when the Pacers themselves have only three losses all season.
But will they be able to duplicate that second-half confidence, that Paul George eruption, in a hostile atmosphere (OK, it won’t be as hostile as what thy faced over the weekend in San Antonio and Oklahoma City, a back-to-back from which they emerged with one blowout win and one blowout loss). And since the game will be starting at 7 p.m. Miami time, half of the seats will be unoccupied at tipoff.
But my guess is that next Wednesday’s game will come down to he fourth quarter — and that is the quarter in which the Pacers will gain a true measure of their relative strengths and weaknesses. If they get the jitters down there, they won’t have the home crowd to roust them.
So while I am as congratulatory as the next guy when it comes to what the Pacers have accomplished (and I am gratified, too, because I picked them to win the title), I am waiting to see what happens when some adversity arrives. Does the return of Danny Granger take away what Lance Stephenson has brought to the equation? Can Ian Mahinmi become something other than a walking whistle magnet? Who will step up once Paul George inevitably sinks into a slump (Everyone has them, even Wilt Chamberlain did). When exactly is Luis Scola going to beat up on the second-stringers he now finds himself playing against?
Some of my tweeps claim I am a Heat hater, and some of their arguments hold water even if their preconceived notion is faulty (I hate nobody, I try to be gregarious, and I only root for good stories when I am covering games). So there was no confetti on the floor at Casa de Sheridan late Tuesday night, and I have been doing this long enough to know that one thing you need to do when it comes to December games is forget about them as soon as possible. They mean nothing when springtime arrives, trades have been made and injuries have occurred.
For now, though, I extend my props to the Pacers — and to George, who becomes the first player this season to retain the No. 1 spot two weeks in a row.
So what kind of reshuffling of the deck is in store for this week’s column?
On to the rankings to find out …