LeBron, Heat Sitting Pretty Amid NBA’s Storms

Oh, so all’s forgiven? Roy Hibbert doesn’t suck anymore. Lance Stephenson didn’t have that practice fight with Evan Turner after all. Frank Vogel actually did know what he was doing all along. Paul George is worthy of the near-max contract and the loud Gatorade commercials. Hibbert doesn’t think some of his teammates are selfish.

It was just a tease, a phase, a smelly hiccup. The Indiana Pacers are back, no longer the free-falling waste of talent and flesh that transformed from a 46-10 championship contender to a wobbly, dysfunctional mess one loss from first-round elimination.

Please don’t go there, smart people, even if the Pacers are going there.

“We got the job done. This is just step one of our mission. We have a long way to go,’’ said George, who did have five double-doubles in the Atlanta series but has yet to gain our complete big-moment trust.

“We’re making good decisions. Everything is all right for the most part,’’ said Hibbert, who did have 13 points and 7 rebounds in Game 7 against Atlanta but is capable of slipping back into pout mode at any moment.

A temporary airlift out of sub-mediocrity, against an Atlanta team with a losing record, doesn’t signify a sea change in a state hopelessly landlocked. Come second round, the Pacers will not survive the rested Washington Wizards, pumped full of confidence and unity and more than enough talent, and they will revert to their well-deserved role as underachieving misfits. While the Pacers were being extended to seven games and spending enormous energy dealing with continuing internal issues — and the exhausting public scrutiny and criticism that comes with it — guess what the Miami Heat have been doing the last two weeks?

Blowing out the Bobcats in four games. Allowing Dwyane Wade to rest his various injuries — knee, hamstring, ankle — as if he was on summer vacation. Watching LeBron James also earn much-needed rest after averaging 30 points, eight rebounds and seven assists while shooting 55 percent in the Charlotte series. Remember the consternation when the Heat stumbled through the end of the regular season, losing to Indiana at home and worrying about injuries and energy? Forget all that. It’s irrelevant now.

“I believe this is a great direction we’re going in right now,” James said. “In four games, we played championship-level basketball, and when we got tested, we responded with a championship-type attitude.”

Usually around this time, James is bombarded by media. Now, amid the Donald Sterling scandal and the most hotly-contested first round in NBA postseason history, he’s happy to be underground and enjoying the view. “I feel pretty good. I’m getting to my game,’’ he said.

Their next opponent will be battered and weary after a seven-game series. In other words, another Heat sweep is possible. They know a quick series translates to less wear and tear on their bodies, a key ingredient in any three-peat attempt. “When you get a team on the ropes, you don’t want to let them have life,” said Wade, who has looked healthy and well after coach Erik Spoelstra expertly rested him in certain games during the regular season.

As for the West, which has featured a superior brand of basketball all season, the three best teams also were extended to seven-game series. And the two West semifinals probably will go seven games, too.

Are you seeing where this is going, perhaps?

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