The interesting thing about the Indiana Pacers isn’t so much that they’re winning, but rather how they’re doing it.
Collectively, efficiently and with attitude.
Lots of attitude.
Not the brash-type, not the bluster-type, and certainly not The Brawl-type. But the fearless-type. The warrior-type. The relentless-type that, when combined with playmaking, is an especially lethal mix.
What else explains their rapid ascension in the Eastern Conference?
Heading into Friday’s home game against Detroit, the Pacers were a half-game behind New York for the second-best record in the East.
They were 5½ behind No. 1 Miami and coming off a 125-91 annihilation of the Knicks.
Heading into Friday, the Pacers had won seven of their previous nine games and 30 of their past 45 overall and were 22-5 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
They are a combined 4-1 against Miami and New York and have clearly demonstrated they are in the same heavyweight class as both.
They are now determined to prove they belong at the top of the class.
“We want to move up,” All-Star forward Paul George said. “We want to eventually take the ‘two’ spot and see if we can challenge for the first seed.”
The way the Pacers are playing, the words don’t ring hollow. With 27 games left, including 13 at home, they have ample time — and opportunity — to pass the Knicks and the Heat.
They also have the attitude.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the Pacers is that they are the rarest of rarities: A mentally tough and physically bruising team that plays like a team and is, to a player, easy to embrace.
There are no surly characters, no prickly personalities, no divas, no brawlers, no embarrassments. Paul George, David West and Roy Hibbert are class acts with All-Star pedigrees. George Hill is introduced at home games as “the hometown hero” and lives up to the billing. Lance Stephenson has matured by leaps and bounds, both as a citizen and a player, and is truly a delight to watch.
Backups D.J. Augustin, Ian Mahinmi, Tyler Hansbrough and Jeff Pendergraph are also model pros. Augustin and Hansbrough are former starters who don’t pout about their roles. Pendergraph only recently joined the rotation but has always flashed the sunniest countenance.
Lesser known reserves Sam Young and Orlando Johnson have made the most of limited minutes and are enthusiastic cheerleaders on the bench.
Yet there is nothing soft about the Pacers, who made that clear Wednesday night against the Knicks.
Hard fouls, flagrants, trash talk — the Knicks dished it all in generous portions. The Pacers responded by simply lighting the scoreboard. Dunks, 3-pointers, defense, board-crashing and more dunks were on display in equal measure.
If the Pacers are easily intimidated, they have a funny way of showing it.
Fact is, they have shown they don’t back down from challenges. They might have the occasional bad game or flat performance, but they don’t lack the courage to go after what they think they can get — even against an opponent spoiling for a fight.
“Any win is a confidence-booster, but against a great team like the Knicks, it’s a big boost,” Pacers coach coach Frank Vogel said. “Anytime there is a blowout, teams get edgy.”
Edgy, but not nasty. That’s what’s refreshing about the Pacers.
They are nice guys with the will to finish first.