Rough Start For Pacers, Hibbert All Bound Up Together


MILWAUKEERoy Hibbert struggled and smoldered on the court as the Indiana Pacers dug their hole deeper with nearly every trip downcourt in their blowout loss to the Milwaukee Bucks Wednesday at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.

But the 23 minutes he spent on the Pacers’ bench, compared to his 25 in the game, were just as bad. Hibbert rolled his eyes at calls and non-calls, slammed his towel to the floor when Bucks’ shooters got friendly bounces and covered his face time and again. At one point, his 7-foot-2 self was folded into the open chair next to him, face down, anguishing through a butt-kicking that got to 32 points at one juncture against Milwaukee.

Then, the Pacers center beat himself up pretty bad in the visitors’ dressing room, too.

“It’s very frustrating,” Hibbert said, cooperative but looking a little tortured. “It’s very hard to get into a rhythm … personally. I think I’m doing good defensively, but offensively I need to get going and help the team out. I want to do more than I have been. I have to figure out a way to get that done.”

Notorious as his own worst critic, Hibbert isn’t overreacting to either his performances or the Pacers’ unexpectedly sour 3-6 start. He scored seven points and had eight rebounds against Milwaukee. He took only six shots and made three, took only four free throws and made one. He’s shooting 38.6 percent, including nights of 1-of-7 and 3-of-15.

The loss Wednesday was the fifth time in Indiana’s past six games that Hibbert scored in single digits, and the fifth in six in which he grabbed fewer than 10 rebounds. His minutes have been down, too; sometimes due to fouls, sometimes due to games like this one, when there was little use in keeping him or any of the Pacers starters around for long.

“I want to play,” Hibbert said, shaking his head. “I want to be involved. It’s frustrating. Obviously we were getting our tails handed to us. But I want to be out there playing and be able to affect the game. To sit out and have the guys on the bench take the brunt of it … as a leader and as one of the older guys on the team, you want to do more.”

There are those around the Pacers who wonder if Hibbert already is trying to do too much to justify the four-year, $58.3 million contract he got as a restricted free agent over the summer. After all, Milwaukee’s Ersan Ilyasova – who also cashed in with a five-year, $40 million deal in free agency – has struggled too (6.4 ppg, 27.9 FG percent), possibly nervous about demonstrating his worth.

It’s possible that Hibbert consciously is trying to pick up slack from Danny Granger, Indiana’s sharpshooting small forward who is out for three months with a knee injury. But Hibbert swats those suggestions away as if they’re lazy floaters.

“I’m not forcing anything,” he said. “I’m not standing out there putting up a lot of shots. Six shot attempts. I could understand if I was catching it and forcing up bad shots.

“I’m just not getting into a rhythm.”

Larry Sanders, the Milwaukee big who has improved significantly this fall, said some of that was by design. “We did a good job tonight just knocking him off his position,” Sanders said. “He couldn’t really get where he wanted his feet set on the block. I think a lot of guys have targeted in on him, getting him off his position. You push him out a little bit, he struggles, because his go-to’s are those turnaround jump hooks. If he can’t get down there, his game’s kind of limited.”

Indiana coach Frank Vogel is trying to plug leaks up and down his rotation, so Hibbert’s poor start to 2012-13 – and mental toughness – are just two of the problems. “It’s confidence and adjustments to new roles by pretty much everybody on our team except our two big guys,” Vogel said. “Roy and David [West] are dealing with everybody else on the team adjusting, and them trying to keep a rhythm while that’s happening.”

West isn’t free and clear, either, scoring a season-low seven points in 23 minutes and shooting 10-for-37 over his last three games. “Everybody’s got to own some of this,” the power forward said. “It’s not totally on [Hibbert]. We have to do a better job of getting him some easy stuff. He shouldn’t have to work as hard as he works. If you watch some of the other big guys in the league, they’re able to get going early because they get easy stuff. Not have to fight to catch it and fight to make a move. All of that is part of his struggles, but we can’t just put it all on him.”

They don’t need to. Hibbert’s beating them to it.

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