Pacers credit better atmosphere for increased home advantage

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INDIANAPOLIS – Those who control the Bankers Life Fieldhouse twitter account had a cleaver hashtag for the main resident of their building.

On their account @TheFieldhouse, they came up with #bankersdozen, referring to the winning streak of the Indiana Pacers.

Unfortunately, it would only be able to work for a few days. Their NBA basketball team didn’t cooperate in a good way.

Friday’s victory over the Heat gave the Pacers a 13th consecutive victory, the biggest home winning streak since the team ran off 14-straight in the 2002-2003 season, increasing their season record to 18-3.

“From the start of the season we wanted to have the mindset that we wanted to try to be dominant at home,” said Pacers head coach Frank Vogel. “We were 23-10 last year and that’s pretty good but it’s not dominant and we’ve had that mindset and so far its working.”

Why you might ask? We’ll according to many members of the team it has to do with the team’s success bringing fans back to Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

“They’re a supportive group,” said forward Paul George of the crowd. “The energy that the bring the moment that you’re getting tired, you always want to step up and make that next big play just to hear the roars and the screaming of the crowd. That’s what I get out of it.

“Whenever I’m tired, I’m waiting for that next play to re-energize myself.”

Vogel says he notices a difference in the crowd from when he took over the Pacers’ head coaching duties in February of 2011, the season in which the Pacers finished last in the league in attendance by averaging 13,538 a game.

“The feel of the game is different than it was in the building even last year, a lot of empty houses” said Vogel. “Now the crowds are starting to come and really get behind us and that’s an exciting thing to be a part of.”

Since 2011 the team has seen a steady increase in their attendance as the average jumped 500 people in the lockout-shortened season of 2012. This year it’s up about the same amount though 21 games, with the attendance averaging 14,518 fans a contest.

“You have to have an advantage when you are home as far as playing in front crowd,” said guard George Hill. “I think our fans show a lot of support and make this arena loud.”

Enough so far to approach a franchise record for consecutive home victories, though there is still a long time to go. In the 1999-2000 season-the Pacers’ first at Bankers Life Fieldhouse-the team went November 26th to March 12 without losing a game in Indianapolis for a 25-game winning streak.

Those wins helped the Pacers in their first Eastern Conference championship and NBA Finals appearance, and the Pacers are getting a boost from this stretch. Even though they are 15-games over .500 at home they are six games under on the road which has kept the team in the middle of the conference playoff race for most of the year.

“We’re not happy with how we are playing on the road,” said Vogel. “So we’ve got to make up ground here at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.”

In many ways the team continues to after the slide on and off the court at the end of the 2000s. While the crowds have improved they’ve not gone back to the 16,000-plus which were commonplace ten seasons ago when the team was last competing for an NBA championship. In the 2003-2004 season, when the Pacers were the top team in the Eastern Conference, the team was 34-7 at home and played in front of crowds that were at an average of 90 percent of the building’s capacity.

Hill, however, says those crowds will return in time.

“Like I tell all the guys with success brings fans,” said Hill. “If were not doing so good they’re not going to come, if we’re doing good they’re all going to be here.  So we have to continue what we’re supposed to do on and off the court and playing together and having fun and before we know it this place will be jam-packed.”

Enough to make it a #bankerstwodozen perhaps.