Unfortunately for the Indiana Pacers, time to look back on their redemptive victory over the Miami Heat, the team that bounced them out of the playoffs last year, was short. A battle with the New York Knicks was looming just two days away.
The good news is the Knicks and Heat are very similar teams. Both score a lot of points—the Heat ranked sixth in the league, the Knicks fifth—and neither one rebounds very well—29th and 27th, respectively.
The Pacers swarming, smothering defense held up against the Heat, allowing them to shoot only 41.2 percent from the floor. They were also affective in keeping the Heat players off of the glass as they only managed seven offensive rebounds.
The Pacers will need a similar defensive showing and a more evenly distributed offensive performance if they are going to beat the East's two best teams in consecutive games.
Here are five keys to a Pacers win.
Carmelo Anthony is averaging 29 points per game. Priority No. 1 for the Pacers will be keeping him as far below that number as possible.
The Knicks' next highest-scoring options are shooting guard J.R. Smith (16.9) and point guard Raymond Felton (15.8).
That's a pretty big gap in production.
If David West and Paul George are successful in stifling Anthony's offensive output, the Pacers struggling offense will be able to play looser, with less pressure. They will also have to look out for J.R. Smith, who will likely try to take advantage of Lance Stephenson.
At least for now, the Miami Heat game showed that the Pacers don't really need Roy Hibbert to score, and that's a good thing because his counterpart and reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year, Tyson Chandler, doesn't really allow people to score.
Hibbert only had six points against the Heat, but his 14 rebounds and solid play on the defensive end made a difference.
That the Knicks are such a similar team means that if Hibbert finds his shots aren't falling early in the game, he can focus on defense and rebounding and know that he could still play a major role in getting his team a win.
Paul George's 29 points against LeBron James and the Miami Heat showed once again what he is capable of.
The next step for him is to show us he can do it consistently.
The Pacers are still looking for someone to step up and lead the team offensively. David West has shown flashes but overall has been inconsistent. Paul George has the ability to be that guy.
Whether George is guarded by Carmelo Anthony, Steve Novak or Ronnie Brewer won't matter. If he is on his game he will get his points; he's got the physical attributes and the skill set.
With Roy Hibbert not likely to be effective offensively against Tyson Chandler, Paul George may need to replicate his performance against the Heat if the Pacers are going to stand a chance of defending their home floor.
Lance Stephenson scored seven of the Pacers' first eight points against the Heat. Then he got two quick fouls and had to sit.
He ended the game with 13 points on 5-of-11 shooting, including 3-of-4 from three-point range.
It was a microcosm of Stephenson's career.
From high school legend to second-round draft pick to NBA enigma, Stephenson is great at showing flashes but not so good at putting together long stretches of consistent play.
His third year is the one in which he will prove whether he will be a star or a second-unit guy for the rest of his career.
With Danny Granger still out of action but expected to return soon, Stephenson's window of opportunity may be closing faster than he would like.
If Paul George and David West struggle against the Knicks, the burden to score points will fall to Lance Stephenson. If he is successful, it may be the first big step in realizing his potential and justifying the faith that Larry Bird has in him.
George Hill left the game against the Miami Heat because of dehydration. News came out today (Wed. 01/09) that he is day-to-day with bronchitis.
That the Pacers were able to beat the Heat with Hill only playing 23 minutes and being just a shadow of himself while he was out there is encouraging.
Still, Hill is the team's third-leading scorer, and they need all the help on the offensive end they can get.
D.J. Augustin's more confident play of late can largely be attributed to the minutes he received while Hill was recovering from a thigh bruise. He has proved to be a capable backup, but George Hill is the starter for a reason.
The Pacers got by the Heat with subpar offensive performances from most of their players because of Paul George's huge night. To beat the Knicks and make it consecutive wins over the East's two best teams will likely require more of a team effort. If Hill can log significant minutes, the Pacers stand a much better chance of achieving that goal.
If not, D.J. Augustin may have to have the night of his life.