I don’t know how many people know or care, but the Indiana Pacers finally won a playoff series Tuesday night.   Okay, they beat a Dwight Howard-less, Orlando Magic team 4 games to 1, a team that wasn’t going anywhere.  But they probably could have beaten the Magic even if Howard had been healthy.

Indiana Pacers' David West Celebrates

Yes, the Pacers are my hometown, childhood-favorite team, which makes me a real homer here, but the fact is the Pacers have had a pretty good season, no matter how much my prejudices might blind me.

But beating the nearly defenseless Orlando Magic was nothing compared to the task ahead for the Pacers – a series against the villainous but star-studded Miami Heat.

I doubt anyone gives the Pacers much of a chance against Miami’s Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.   And as much I root for the Pacers I can’t in good conscience say they will win that series either.

But what they can win, something previous Pacers teams won years ago, is RESPECT.  Whether they win the series or only a single game, the 2012 Pacers must give the Heat all they can handle and then some.

These Pacers, who don’t have a nationally recognized player, let alone a single star, are rarely mentioned in the national media.  ESPN’s Sportscenter often shows Pacers’ highlights just before the end of the program, and then sometimes show more plays from the opposing team.  Talk about a lack of respect.

Such is the fate of a small market team with very few followers, let alone true believers.   Even the home fans have had little faith in the Pacers.  In recent years, including this season, the Pacers have languished near the bottom in NBA attendance.

The fans in Indianapolis are notoriously front-running and hard to please.  But the fan base really started to tune out the Pacers after the notorious “brawl” in Detroit against the Piston’s nearly eight years ago.  The Pacers who for more than a decade were one of the NBA’s top teams suddenly became bottom-feeders, and pariahs.  Their players were called thugs and the Pacers missed the playoffs for five consecutive seasons.

But a careful rebuilding project by team president Larry Bird, which meant that losses would mount while character was re-established, has finally produced dividends.  The Pacers finished this lockout shortened regular season, 18 games over .500, culminating with a third seed in the playoffs.

But even with the team’s best season in years, the doubters remain.  Ironically some of those doubters might be wearing Pacers’ uniforms.   Leading scorer Danny Granger, who lately perpetually seems to have an angry scowl on his face, will have to confidently man up to try to take away some of LeBron James passing and driving lanes.  First time all-star center Roy Hibbert will need to show that he’s not still a project in the making.   And power forward David West who is starting to shed the lingering effects of his surgically repaired ACL, must continue to be the glue that binds and leads.

But with all that said, can the Pacers actually win the series against Miami?  I’m not betting on it.  But I do believe they have a chance to earn some respect by playing tough, hardnosed, team basketball.  For a team on the rise, that is trying to regain the trust and admiration of its fans and win over a skeptical media, that’s really not too much to ask.


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