And Another Thing

JG columnist Ben Smith talks about the interminable NBA season ... so far

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Ben Smith

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Pacers won’t let losses slow them

– Two losses in three games now, and you can smell the panic down at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse. It seeps in with the cold. It creeps in on little cat’s feet. It –

Excuse me? What was that, David West?

“We’re not going to overreact to it,” he said after the Indiana Pacers dropped an 81-73 verdict the other night, at home, to the Dallas Mavericks.

Yeah, bu–

“We don’t like to lose here at home, but we’re to 40 wins already, so we’ll look at it like that,” West said after the Pacers shot 32 percent and got floor-waxed 21-11 in the fourth quarter in their own building.

OK, that’s nice, but st–

“We’ll just try to regroup and come back and get ourselves rolling again,” West said.

And there it is, ladies and gentlemen: the secret to everything these days on the happy little planet presided over by Larry Bird and Frank Vogel.

This is at once both a young team and a mature team, and with maturity comes perspective. And it’s perspective above all else that has the Pacers at 40-12 and 2 1/2 games clear of everyone in the NBA’s Eastern Conference here at the All-Star break, where more and more observers are saying in all seriousness that the Indiana Pacers are looking a lot like an NBA championship team.

To be sure, there’s still half a millennium to go in the endless NBA season, but for a team that so demonstrably looks like it was built to last, that is as routine as everything else.

A loss to the Mavs at home? Two losses in their last three games before the All-Star break, including one to 16-38 Orlando?

Patience, my children. Patience.

Forty wins at midstream, West reminds us, is still 40 wins at midstream, and if two of the Pacers’ 12 losses have come in the last week … well, it’s a long season, and stuff happens. Paul George is still Paul George. Roy Hibbert is still Roy Hibbert. West is still West and George Hill still the wise head up top – and Lance Stephenson, the loose cannon, is not so loose a cannon that he disrupts the exquisite balance that makes the Pacers who they are.

Which is a team that can beat you up inside and take you off the dribble on clear-outs, then suffocate you at the defensive end. This is throwback basketball the Pacers play, and it’s working – to an extent more and more people are starting to think of them as championship material.

And as for those two losses in their last three coming into the All-Star break?

No, the Pacers won’t overreact to it, as West says. And that’s because they take the long view, as any team with maturity learns to do in the League.

After all, the Pacers know what’s coming next: Seven games with Atlanta, Minnesota, Milwaukee, the Lakers, Boston and Utah, all of whom are below .500 and three of whom (the Bucks, Lakers and Jazz) are in the bottom three of their respective conferences.

Patience, children. Patience.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.