When the state of Indiana comes to mind, one can't help but recall vast farmlands, the Great Lakes region and the movie "Hoosiers."
Yes, Indiana is also the home of the Indianapolis 500, the NFL's Colts and some of best universities in the country (Purdue, Indiana, Notre Dame).
Basketball, though, has top billing thanks to such hoops icons as Larry Bird, Bobby Knight and Reggie Miller.
The Indiana Pacers are beginning to turn heads in the land known as the Crossroads of America and have made Bankers Life Fieldhouse a house of horrors for visiting teams. Sporting a 20-3 record at home, which is tied with Miami for the best in the Eastern Conference, the Pacers are riding a 15-game winning streak as the host.
Currently on top in the Central Division and third in the East standings -- three games behind the Miami Heat and 1 1/2 games in back of the New York Knicks -- the Pacers will begin a five-game residency Friday versus Toronto, Brooklyn, Charlotte, New York and Detroit. The night before a road win at Philadelphia on Wednesday, Indiana defeated Atlanta, 114-103, at home in front of a sparse crowd of 12,578. The Fieldhouse holds more than 18,000.
Pacers coach Frank Vogel and the players have noticed the lack of home support despite being one of few teams with at least 30 wins.
"I'm hopeful that all you Pacers fans sitting at home watching on TV start coming out and seeing us because this is a special team that we're putting together here," Vogel told IndyStar.com. "We're playing at a special level, and I look forward to seeing those crowds start getting up."
To take a page out of the movie "Field of Dreams," if the Pacers build a winning atmosphere, the people will come. They have put a winner on the hardwood and in time the box office at the Fieldhouse should become more busy.
Putting fans in seats is not easy to accomplish when past teams have left a sour taste in the mouths of those spending hard-earned money on traveling to games, tickets, food, merchandise, etc. It has been tough with the economy, and the team has put together special promotions with reduced ticket prices. But when will it start to take a consistent effect with the fans?
Pacers guard George Hill, third on the team with a 14.7-point average, said the fans show up when marquee players are in town. Hill and his teammates feed off that concept and are confident the team will be even better when there are less empty seats in the building. Expect to see a packed house when Brooklyn and New York take their swings at the Pacers next week.
Scheduled to play 18 of the final 32 games at Banker Life Fieldhouse, the Pacers are riding their longest home winning streak since a 25-game run back in the 1999-2000 campaign. Indiana will extend its streak of seasons with a winning home record to a remarkable 24 in a row with another home win, which will come soon enough.
Solid defense and unselfish play have been the calling card of this year's version of the Pacers, who have won five in a row overall and completed a perfect back-to-back-to-back stretch with a win over the Philadelphia 76ers. The Pacers played four games in five days and kept minutes low for their star players during the weary grind.
"We're starting to really play for each other and playing as a team, and it's carried over to the last four games at home," Vogel said after the Atlanta win.
Vogel touched on Indiana's defense, which is first in opposing team's scoring (90 ppg), field goal percentage (41.9) and 3-point shooting (32.6).
"That's what's exciting because the way this group defends and the length that they have defensively, and being the best defensive team in the NBA to start scoring the ball the way we're scoring it, we have a real chance to do some special things this year," Vogel said. "They're all good guys. I love coaching this team. It's fun to watch, fun to coach."
Now all Vogel and the Pacers have to do is convince the fans that it's worth the time and money to see them in person. That should already be the case with All-Star Paul George, David West, Hill and Hibbert donning the navy blue and gold. Plus, with the impending return of star forward Danny Granger, the team is about to get bigger and better.
Indiana appears headed to the postseason for a third straight year and just needs a little more fan support to get there and succeed.