Column: Indiana Pacers under the radar, and liking it

INDIANAPOLIS – Larry Bird is quitting, taking his ball and going home.

OK, maybe he’s not. He’s said no decision has been made yet about whether he’ll remain as president of the Indiana Pacers, contrary to some reports. but how else to get anyone to pay attention to this team?

The Pacers are the unidentified object just beginning to show up on the radar screen of the NBA playoffs.

They’re the team most likely to need name tags. they owned the fifth best record in the league during the season — better than the Boston Celtics or the Los Angeles Lakers— but who knew? that apparently included the local customers, as the Pacers finished 29th in the NBA in attendance, behind even the Charlotte Bobcats, who went 7-59.

And they might be the team to give the Miami Heat the most anxious moments in the Eastern Conference. probably find that out the next round.

“I think we’re a little lost under the radar,” Danny Granger was saying Tuesday after the Pacers finished off the Orlando Magic in five games, Indiana’s first playoff advancement in seven years. “That’s fine with us. if you’re lost under the radar, you can sneak up on people a little easier.”

The Bankers Life Fieldhouse crowd was chanting “Beat the Heat.” Lately, anyone around here saying that in may was trying to market air conditioners for the summer.

Trouble selling basketball in Indiana? Isn’t that a little like trouble selling zebras to lions?

But the big problems are fading for this franchise. Lousy records. Off-court transgressions by former players. Peyton Manning and the Colts owning the city.

The new wave behaves itself, and Manning is now a Denver Bronco. might be some cap space in the Indianapolis attention span for its basketball team. “I think with Peyton leaving, it’s definitely helped us a little bit,” swingman Paul George said.

The Pacers seem to take lack of national recognition with grace, figuring the future can fix anything. “I guess we have to prove ourselves,” George said.

“I don’t know if that means a whole lot to us,” said forward David West, an important addition. “Other than we’re trying to go about it the best possible way. This group is young, but we’re hungry. We’ve got good character guys.”

“You’ll get credit when you have success,” guard George Hill added.

Pushing Miami, for instance.

“We feel like this is just the beginning of a big run,” coach Frank Vogel said. “We know a team can beat any crew of superstars. We preach team play. We watched what the Dallas Mavericks did in the playoffs last year.”

You’ve been warned, Heat. Once you shake off the New York Knicks, you’re about to be Mavericked. if only the Pacers had Dirk Nowitzki.

The playoffs here have played to full houses, and while that shouldn’t be noteworthy in Indiana, it is. the natives had grown a little restless — or even worse, disinterested — with the pace of Bird’s promised revival four years ago. And had he not been a cherished state treasure, he would have been more of a target.

There is some thought he’s ready to step down, now that the turnaround is clear. Or might he want to stay a tad longer to see where it all goes? Bird isn’t saying yet.

What he did say, standing in the fieldhouse hallway the other day, is how much he wanted to see the end of sections of empty seats at Pacers games.

“Our players knew they weren’t showing up,” Bird said. “To bring high quality players here — they ask a lot of questions. they see it on TV. it helps when you have big crowds for a lot of reasons. First thing most of these guys do is look up there and see how many people are here tonight.

“I understand we’re coming out of a recession and it is not cheap to come to one of our games. I grew up poor. My goal four years ago was to change the culture, and bring in guys I like to watch play. I know if I like to watch them, our fans will like to watch them. It’s been a slow process.”

It seems to be working. Don’t worry if you have noticed yet. Lots of people haven’t.

Column: Indiana Pacers under the radar, and liking it

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