Playoff Losses To Heat Shape Vogel, Pacers’ Plans For Prosperity

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Indiana Pacers found themselves in the peculiar position of rooting for the Miami Heat last week. Not because they were trying to butter-up the beasts of the East as they went for consecutive win No. 28 at Chicago, but because their disdain for their Central Division rival runs that much deeper.

Still, the Pacers, as with as the rest of the free world, know the road to the Eastern Conference championship goes through Miami. Last May, Indiana held a 2-1 series lead over the eventual NBA champs before it all unraveled in a six-game, East semifinal defeat.

Approaching a year later, the Pacers are a bit older and wiser. They believe, even with Danny Granger officially ruled out for the season, that they’re big enough, deep enough, physical enough and more explosive offensively — and even tougher defensively — than last season’s version to match up with the Heat in a potential East finals.

“We feel like we can compete with anybody if we’re playing defense and we’re making sharp, sound decisions on the offensive end,” forward David West said during the Pacers’ stop in Dallas last week. “Right now they’re [the Heat] the cream of the crop. They’re the champs and everybody else is just chasing them.”

Added All-Star Paul George: “The only thing that we’ll have to prove is how well we can play in the playoffs.”

Which is where being wiser could ultimately make the biggest difference. And it starts with coach Frank Vogel, who is in just his second full season as coach and whose 40th birthday doesn’t roll around until a few days after the NBA Finals in June.

Vogel said he walked away from last year’s Heat series having learned two key lessons that he’s implemented since training camp.

“No. 1 is we were one of the worst fouling teams in the league last year,” Vogel said. “And it probably cost us two games in that [Miami] series where we had two guys in foul trouble for key stretches.”

Let’s tackle this one before revealing key lesson No. 2. Indiana racked up the third-most fouls in the league last season, and in the six games against Miami it committed 147 infractions, 24.5 fouls per game, even more than its regular-season average.

The two “cost us” games Vogel referred to were Games 1 and 4, when the Pacers were called for a combined 59 fouls, or 40 percent of their six-game total.

In Game 1, foul trouble limited George Hill to 25 minutes and Paul George to 26 minutes in the 96-85 loss. In the pivotal Game 4 loss, 101-93, fouls benched West and center Roy Hibbert. Indiana led 61-51 with 8:29 to go in third quarter. Less than three minutes later, it was 61-61 and it all fell apart from there. Nine Pacers fouls in the quarter — two each by West and Hibbert to give each four — and seven turnovers helped turn the momentum.

“We’ve talked all season about learning to play the game without fouling, to keep key guys on the court and not give the other team easy opportunities,” Vogel said. “I think we’ve improved in that regard.”

As they look to gain a four-game road sweep tonight at the Los Angeles Clippers (10:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV), the Pacers (47-27 and third in the East with one more loss than No. 2 New York) rank 15th in fouls committed, about 20 a game. Defending with a physical edge and without fouling is critically important against the likes of Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, two players that have and can make a postseason killing at the free throw line. That’s especially true in light of LeBron’s post-Bulls-loss campaign for foul justice.

Here’s Vogel’s second key adjustment this season: “We played a lot of our starters together, then our bench together so we would have five bench guys in there at one time and that hurt us in that series. We’re using our depth more intelligently this year in terms of staggering our rotation so that we have one or two starters in the game at all times.”

It’s a critical point considering James averaged 42.2 mpg in the playoff series — and played 43 or more minutes in four of the six games — and Wade averaged 37.8, twice eclipsing 40 minutes.

Vogel is riding his starters more this season. Last year, Granger and point guard Darren Collison — traded to Dallas in the offseason — were the only starters to average more than 30 mpg, with Granger logging a team-high 33.3 mpg. This season, West, Hill and George all average at least 33.3 mpg with George at the top at 37.5 mpg, about eight minutes more than his average last season.

Hill, who took over the starting job from Collison late last season, is up nearly nine minutes from last season when he came off the bench in 41 of the 50 games he played. Conversely, forward Tyler Hansbrough leads a revamped bench at 18.2 mpg, down five minutes from last season.

“We feel like we’ve got a team that’s complete and balanced and able to matchup with anybody,” Vogel said.

The Pacers earned a measure of confidence by winning the regular-season series against the Heat, 2-1, taking both games at home. Of course, the Knicks and Bulls also won the season series, and each took a game at Miami.

“We know regular season means nothing,” Hill said. “When you get into the playoffs anything can happen. We know that we just have to continue doing what we do as a team at the defensive end and the offensive end like we’ve been doing all year long to have a chance.”

20 Comments

  1. Run says:

    Honestly, I strongly believe the Pacers can pull it off. REASON = HIBBERT. Last season the Pacers never took advantage of their main strengh, which is their post game and defensive toughness. They still have that advantage this season. Just like everyone is saying that the Bulls beat the Heat on HARD FOULS and AGGRESSIVE DEFENSE. If anyone is paying attention, the Pacers have done that all season. Say I’m wrong, but last time I checked, a defensive-minded team can WOW you and can possibly win the championship. Don’t believe me, it’s fine, no one expected the 2003-04 Pistons to out-beat and out-best the Lakers and you’ll never guess how they pulled it off, D-E-F-E-N-S-E. I will take the Pacers defense over the Heat offense ANYDAY.

  2. matt says:

    I think David West is right on, and the Pacers are really the only team that will have a chance to compete with the Heat out east. It’ll be a different story when they face the champs from the West, but I like Indiana’s perimeter shooting, and their success amidst relative anonymity. I’m a Nuggets fan out west, so I understand about rooting for the underdog, but it’s been fun watching Indiana remain relevant all year. I’ve been watching a lot more games this year than years past, and my DISH Game Finder app makes it really easy to do. I work strange, late hours at DISH usually, so having the Game Finder at home, finding all the games on TV, is a huge bonus. It also lets me set reminders and recordings for upcoming games, which is great considering my work schedule and the time difference!

  3. Jack says:

    another,..basketball is physical game, every player knows that, if you whine after a game be it, esp. if no one responded in favor of you, as LBJ did if no cared enough to his claim, if i were him i will still play on my best game,..the refs must do their judgement concistently, if they do it in early part of the game, they should continue calling all fouls that must supposed to call until the end of the game, coz integrity of the game is very important, i will not watch NBA basketball if one call affects the whole organization..

  4. Jack says:

    one thing here,…Frank Vogel is more on the talking,..do your best shot not just by talking of that inconcistency from you and your big man Hibbert, being a fan of basketball id love to see beautiful excecution rather than defensive-hurting kind of thing as you employed the series you went through with the heat last time, and you really went on with that Fouling stats you are saying now,..goodluck if you really mastered enough on playing good defense without fouling, and i wish you face Miami again to a best of 7 so that claim you are saying will be justified…

  5. pepe says:

    Indiana never had a character, nor even when Reggie /Smith/Oneal….

  6. Chris says:

    Pacers have the talent and the defense to make things hard on Miami. Theyve proven it, but Miami I believe is quite possibly the best at adapting. They lost twice to the pacers this season and on the third game came in HARD. I hate Miami but you can’t use the ref excuse for that game because last I looked Miami had more fouls called against them. I want to see the Pacers win because they’re my favorite in the east but they’re too young and still have some growing to do before they can take on the champs. Spurs/Grizzlies are probably the only two teams I see doing more than making Miami sweat in the playoffs and those matchups aren’t even possible outside the finals

  7. jeffrey says:

    Pacers have their stop.. they can compete.. its not an excuse to a superteam to be unbeatable.. i still belive in best play. this make players star.. Pacers can beat Miami. and i think, it will be a tough strech for the both teams.. RIVALRY FOR THE EAST CHAMP? MIAMI HEAT VS. INDIANA PACERS.. Let’s get it on!

  8. bu says:

    Always remember the lopsided fouls called on teams vs Heat last yr…….. & remember the Kings’ 2002 playoffs……….. Even if no touch or not even near the guy, a foul can still be called on a key player.

    Vogel is good in trying to address this issue but will not help a lot in playoffs against the team that someone else want it to win.

    • Be Realistic says:

      Because like Chicago did the only way to beat Miami is to foul em and push them off their game. Referees on the other hand should do their jobs and make sure that you beat the Heat by playing basketball not trying to hurt or commit hard fouls. Cause when Lebron starts to hit back 6’8 260…. It will hurt!

    • KaplanLBJsGF says:

      @Be Realistic

      well… LBJ through all these years has been given that privilege to barrel through everyone and he gets away with it (either a no offensive call or he gets to the free throw line). With the Bulls, they decided to be physical with him, apply the same force he’s been giving eveyone else… and yeah, he complained about it at the end of the game. Taj and Kirk’s fouls aren’t into injuring LBJ, not with his 6’8, 260lbs frame. If he wants to know how to injure a player intentionally, he should ask his team mate D Wade. He is a lot times bigger and stronger than MJ, R. MIller, Iverson and Stockton and these guys don’t complain getting pounded, they just fight back.

  9. bitch please says:

    Less talk less mistake, oh well will see it on the playoffs

  10. Brd33 says:

    May the team that “Larry Legend” built prevail….go Pacers!!!!

    For that matter, go any-team-playing-against-the-Miami-Divas !! LOL

  11. Aram says:

    Maybe they wana do the bulls strategy. It worked at least for once.

  12. GangstaP says:

    How can you say they’re gonna go home no matter what? They have beat the Heat in regulation this season and it is a possibility for them to do it in the playoffs. Is it tough? Yes. Are the odds in the Heat’s favor? Yes. Is anything possible? Yes, anything is possible. Just wait and see what happens.

    • pepe says:

      Well, I know what is gonna happen : same thing , Miami (+ Bosh activated) is going to take Indiana again ,as a preamble, kind of sharpening the weapons, to overcome other real-challenging teams…teams with more character.
      lebron said crearly , couple of weeks ago, that Indiana is not a team to be taken seriously. Boston and Chicago , are.
      Of course , you can dream all what you want

  13. Chris says:

    I wonder how the series will be without an injured Bosh this time

  14. Anthony Burton says:

    I wonder if that strategy involves not having George checking Lebron extensively being that it had an effect on his ppg in that series. Also hopefully they have learned their lesson on trashtalking and settling for 3pt shots the whole series. The amount of fouls wasn’t the real reason they lost, it was definitely a factor. The Heat and most notably Lebron and Dwade abused the Pacers for the rest of that series especially without a Chris Bosh. If the Heat stay healthy the Pacers are going home no matter what strategy they put in place and it doesn’t get any more honest than that.

    • RH says:

      And Hibbert stopped showing up.

    • Siefer209 says:

      Totally agree. The trash talking only fired up the heat even more. Add to that Granger, who was constantly trying to fight Lebron instead of playing good D. You can be tough without all the added nonsense (eye gouging of D Wade, the bench throwing up choke signs).