Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert doesn't have any excuses.
Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard, a nemesis of Hibbert and every other center in league, is on the sideline in street clothes for the rest of the season.
It's Hibbert's time to star under the bright lights of the playoffs. It's time for him to show why he was named to the Eastern Conference All-Star team this season. It's time for him to show he deserves a hefty pay raise when he hits the free agent market this summer.
"I have to take things and look at each matchup and make sure I dominate on both ends of the floor," Hibbert said. "I can't have any lags in my game and I have to be on top of my game every game."
Howard, the league's premier center, is out for the rest of the season after surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back.
That leaves Hibbert as the marquee attraction in the middle. He has had the best season of his four-year career, averaging 12.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.0 blocks.
There's no reason those numbers shouldn't increase during the series, with the Magic starting 6-9 Glen Davis in Howard's absence.
Game 1 of the best-of-seven series is Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Hibbert's performance in the playoffs will likely play a part in how big a contract he'll receive when he becomes a restricted free agent in July.
"I don't want to start thinking it's my contract year and try to do too much and affect the game in a negative way," he said. "I'm not really thinking about that. Obviously I want to be a dominating presence."
Hibbert quickly noted that he's not the same person who had a difficult time controlling his emotions in the past, thanks to regular meetings with sports psychiatrist Dr. Chris Carr. With the urging of Carr, Hibbert kept a journal of goals he wanted to accomplish each game.
Some games it was how he wanted to perform against one of the league's best centers. In others, he would focus on making quicker moves to the basket.
"You just keep an eye on things with him," coach Frank Vogel said. "He knows his role on our team in any given game. You just try to define it clearly and then if it looks like he's trying to do too much, you just address it and tell him to play within himself and make him understand what has led to his success."
The Pacers have a balanced scoring attack, but it's Hibbert who wants to shoulder the majority of the load.
He often apologized to his teammates when he felt like he didn't play up to expectations during games in the regular season. But instead of letting things linger as he did in the past, Hibbert did his best to move on to the next game.
"He's very driven in terms of wanting the guys on the team to depend on him and knowing we can count on him," forward David West said. "He wants to be counted one. There have been games where he's apologized. That's very rare in a league full of egos.
"His willingness to want to be depended on and that he wants the team and the guys to know he's there and he's going to carry his share of the load . . . you have to respect a player like that."