By Stephen Holder

You might have noticed things getting just a bit snug at the top of the NBA’s Eastern Conference standings.

Entering Tuesday night’s home against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Indiana Pacers owned a slim 1 1/2-game lead over a certain two-time defending NBA champion. You know: the Miami Heat. Perhaps you’ve heard of them.

So, now’s no time to be easing off the gas pedal if you’re Indiana. But given the way the Pacers began the season, with all the energy and emotion they invested in that incredible 16-1 start, there comes a time when it’s fair to ask whether that can be sustained. Lately, it’s been a very fair question. They had a 4 1/2-game lead as recently as Jan. 20, but this win-one, lose-one stretch they’d been on the past couple of weeks suggested they’d reached that inevitable point in their 82-game marathon when minds start to wander.

“We’ve wanted that No. 1 seed so we could have home-court advantage (in the playoffs) and that’s been the driving force for us the whole year,” center Roy Hibbert said.

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