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Pacers cram for next test

– Their moment of truth is past. The first one, anyway. The Indiana Pacers say the trial by fire of the past fortnight was a necessary reawakening.

We’ll see what it meant, soon enough.

The Atlanta Who?

As redemptive and important as Saturday’s Game 7 was for the Pacers, it now is as ancient history as the War of 1812. This is the way it must be when the NBA playoffs are at full grind; quick turnarounds, and short memories.

The Hawks are gone, but here comes another potential troublemaker. The Washington Wizards just blew through Chicago like a gale off Lake Michigan, disposing of the Bulls in five games and going 3-0 in the United Center. What the Pacers would not want to do now is drop the series opener (again), lose home court advantage (again), and quickly be going uphill (again).

“There’s no time to even celebrate or be happy about moving on to the next round,” Paul George was saying after Sunday’s practice. “The next round is here.”

The Wizards arrive with a hot hand and cold playoff history. They haven’t won a second-round game in 32 years. That was 1982. The year before that, a sophomore guard named Randy Wittman scored 16 points in the national championship game for Indiana University.

Now he’s the Wizards’ coach. So the Pacers are facing another native son, though at least this one won’t be driving the lane against them, like Jeff Teague just did.

But there we go again, talking about yesterday. And yesterday doesn’t count.

Or does it?

George put the Wizards aside long enough Sunday to consider what surviving the Hawks series, and all the incoming shots from the outside world, might have done for this team.

“They were the eighth seed and it showed us if we’re not on our game, anybody can beat us. That’s what we took away from it,” he began. “Playoff basketball is about playing perfect, one possession at time, one game at a time, and we didn’t value that. I think it raised our antennas and sharpened us up.

“We feel like the swagger’s coming back. But it’s not back yet.”

That’s the hot phrase at the moment for the Pacers, by the way. Raising their antennas. Or as David West said of the Monday’s assignment against Washington, “Game 1 is the most important game of the series. We’ve got to come out with our antennas up. We just want to carry what we did last night into that game.”

So is Roy Hibbert’s antenna up and fully functional again? No one endured more in the first round than he, as the voices in the streets rose to yank him from the lineup.

Vogel and his teammates stuck by him, and he repaid them with a strong Game 7. The Indiana hope is that was a permanent return from all the days spent in a fog, when for whatever reason he could not have hit the Pacific Ocean standing on the shore.

“Roy Hibbert is a big brother and been someone who’s been in my corner when things weren’t going well for me,” George said. “I was always in his ear and his corner, telling him to stay confident.”

Sunday must have been fun for Hibbert, after so many dark days.

“Yesterday was great,” Hibbert said Sunday. “But it’s the playoffs. You have to move on.”

Mike Lopresti is a freelance columnist. His columns appear periodically in The Journal Gazette.

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