As Hibbert Implodes, Heat Are Sitting Pretty

Zero points, zero rebounds. As Tracy McGrady pointed out on Twitter, inasmuch as anyone cares what Tracy McGrady writes on Twitter, Roy Hibbert managed as much production Monday night in Game 1 as McGrady did on his couch. Or you did on your couch. Or I did on mine. Zero points, zero rebounds. How exactly does that happen from a big man who is making $14.28 million this season as part of a $58.3 million contract?

Whatever is bothering Hibbert — just last year, remember, he was making bizarre homophobic comments — the Indiana Pacers no longer can afford to use him in these playoffs. Just sit him down and try to win without him, or coach Frank Vogel rightfully will lose his job and this team will go down in the ignominy it deserves. They tried to tell us that all was well again, that Hibbert didn’t suck anymore, that Lance Stephenson didn’t have that practice fight with Evan Turner after all, that Vogel actually did know what he was doing all along, that Paul George is worthy of the near-max contract and Gatorade commercials, that the slumber was just a tease and a phase and a smelly hiccup. The Pacers were back, they told us after surviving the 38-44 Atlanta Hawks, insisting they no longer were a 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.

“We got the job done. This is just step one of our mission. We have a long way to go,’’ George said Saturday.

“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 seemed capable of slipping back into pout mode at any moment.

George went so far to get cocky, saying of the next opponent, “From here on out, it’ll be about the Washington Wizards, until we’re past them and on into the next round.”

We knew better not to go there with them. And we knew better than to remotely buy into Hibbert, whose funk returned just in time for the Pacers to lose 102-96. Hear what the Pacers are saying now? They’re blaming it all on Hibbert, which is stating the obvious and also a poor reflection on their leadership. It’s OK for veteran David West, the lone rock in the locker room, to let loose on Hibbert. But public finger-pointing isn’t going to work from George after he, ahem, already had declared the series over before it started.

“We’re at the point where we really need Roy and we need him now,’’ said George, knowing the Pacers have a mismatch against the Wizards up front if Hibbert could play like his potentially dominant self. “Comes down to us having heart and rebounding the ball. We need our big fella to rebound the ball for us.”

“He’s go to be part of the fight,” an angry West said. “He’s got to be part of this fight for us to go anywhere.”

Said Hibbert, who took only two shots: “I got to come out and be aggressive. I got to be a different Roy Hibbert than I have been. I’m going to change some things for the second game. I’m going to look within myself and go out there and figure it out.’’

Does he not realize the playoffs started 2 1/2 weeks ago?

A temporary airlift out of sub-mediocrity doesn’t signify a sea change in a state hopelessly landlocked. The Pacers will not survive the determined Wizards, who are pumped full of confidence and unity and more than enough talent as the Pacers revert to their well-deserved role as underachieving misfits. As Indiana continues to deal with 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 Western Conference, which has featured a superior brand of basketball all season, the three best teams also were extended to seven-game series in the first round. And the West semis could go seven games, too.

Seeing where all this is going, perhaps?