Posts Tagged ‘Chris Copeland’

The Pacers’ plunge continues

VIDEO: Roy Hibbert leaves game early with bone bruise in Pacers’ loss to Wizards

The Pacers play the Jazz on Monday night (7 p.m. ET, League Pass) and it’s interesting that it’s Utah, because the last time these teams met, all was well with Indy.

It was last March 2 when the Pacers won 94-91. David West had a monster game with 25 points. Paul George added 21. Lance Stephenson sank a pair of free throws in the closing seconds to hold off the pesky Jazz. And the Pacers won for the fifth straight time and raised their record to 46-13, best in the East and top three in the NBA.

But life hasn’t quite been the same since for the Pacers.

What we’re witnessing is one of the most dreadful crashes of a contender in the last decade. So many things have happened, and all of them bad. Injuries, poor play, more injuries, defections and, well, the avalanche that buried the Pacers since last March is still building and adding layers.

What if you were told that, eight months later, the retooling Jazz would be the favorite and might even have the better long-term nucleus? Yep, I didn’t think so, either. But the Pacers are 1-6, their worst start since 1993-94 and could be without Roy Hibbert (bone bruise) for a spell, adding more misery to their misery.

The Pacers are probably shaking their heads and still wondering what happened, like the rest of us. They collapsed in the spring, losing four straight after that win over Utah, and closed out the regular season losing 13 of their last 23. It was an astonishing about-face for a team that had a realistic chance to make LeBron James and the Heat sweat. They had to fight off two elimination games to beat the Hawks in the first round, had to go six games against the Wizards and then went out meekly in the East finals against the Heat. All along, their play was shoddy and some of their key players slumped badly, none more than Hibbert, who found himself benched in the playoffs.

And that was the good stretch. What followed over the summer was worse: Losing Stephenson to free agency and George to a gruesome leg injury for perhaps most if not all of this season.

It’s a good thing coach Frank Vogel received a contract extension because he’ll earn it. You hardly recognize the team that Indiana is trotting out on the floor these days. The Pacers have no choice but give extended minutes to players who ordinarily would serve lesser roles. That’s why Chris Copeland, Solomon Hill and Donald Sloan are seeing 31 or more minutes a game. They weren’t even in the rotation last March.

Eventually the Pacers will get West back from a bad ankle, and George might suit up earlier than anyone anticipated, and Hibbert’s injury isn’t serious. And yet they still could struggle to recover from a lousy start and make the playoffs, even in the East. That’s why the Pacers could be sellers at the trade deadline and dangle West and maybe even Hibbert.

Until then, we get Pacers vs. Jazz, Monday night, and my how the world has changed.

Pacers need a lift from their bench

By John Schuhmann,

VIDEO: GameTime’s crew previews Game 4 of the Heat-Pacers series

MIAMI – Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

The Indiana Pacers’ starting lineup has outscored the Miami Heat (by 29 points) in its floor time in the Eastern Conference finals. But when the Pacers have had one or more reserves on the floor, they’ve been pretty awful (minus-34). And thus, they’re down 2-1 with a need to get Game 4 on Monday (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Yes, this is the same story as we had in last year’s conference finals, when the Pacers’ starters were a plus-49 in seven games and all other Indiana lineups were a minus-77.

With that in mind, reworking the bench was the focus of the Pacers’ summer. They traded for Luis Scola and signed C.J. Watson and Chris Copeland. But in the regular season, lineups that included at least one reserve were only slightly better (plus-2.0 points per 100 possessions) than they were last season (plus-1.8).

In February, the Pacers signed Andrew Bynum and traded Danny Granger for Evan Turner, moves that somehow threw their starters in a funk. They’ve been better in the postseason, but the bench is back to bringing the Pacers down.

The playoff numbers aren’t as bad as they were last season, but Indiana lineups with at least one reserve on the floor have been pretty dreadful offensively and have been outscored by 4.4 points per 100 possessions in 16 games. In this series, they’ve been awful on both ends of the floor and have been outscored by 30.3.

Scola scored eight straight points in the second quarter on Saturday, but has shot 2-for-11 otherwise. Ian Mahinmi has played just 23 minutes in three games. Turner has played just three, and managed to dribble straight into a triple-team upon entering Game 3. Watson has the worst plus-minus (minus-31 in 58 minutes) in the series.

The only reserve that hasn’t hurt the Pacers in this series is Rasual Butler. Meanwhile, the Heat have gotten lifts from Ray Allen, Chris Andersen, Norris Cole and Rashard Lewis, all of whom have been trusted and empowered much more than anyone on Indiana’s bench.

That’s why some of this has to come back on Pacers coach Frank Vogel. In a sprint for the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage (which they lost in Game 2) from the start of the season, the Pacers weren’t willing to sacrifice games to develop their bench. Over the last two seasons, the Indiana starting lineup has played almost twice as many minutes (3,429) as any other lineup in the league.

Part of that is health. They’ve been fortunate that none of their starters have missed more than eight games in either season.

Part of it is dependence. When the starters are much better than the reserves, teams tend to stick with them for longer minutes.

But part of it is a lack of foresight. Scola, Watson and Mahinmi had regular roles during the season, but guys like Copeland and Butler were basically used in garbage time.

And so, while the Heat can adjust their lineup however they need to according to the matchup or who’s playing well (witness Cole and Allen helping them destroy Indiana in Saturday’s fourth quarter), the Pacers are rather rigid.

When his team is struggling to match up with Miami’s small lineup in transition and David West is chasing Allen around multiple screens, there’s little Vogel can do. He isn’t going to take West off the floor, because he’s his most stable and dependable player. If he benches Roy Hibbert, Vogel has lost his rim protection against the best rim attacker in the league.

Foul trouble is another problem. With George Hill and Paul George forced to sit extra minutes in Game 3, the Pacers’ defense didn’t hold up. Lance Stephenson was forced to play all of the final three quarters and looked gassed as the Heat pulled away in the fourth.

In its last six wins, Miami has outscored its opponents in the fourth quarter by an average score of 26.5-19.5. The Heat haven’t been superb all game, every game, but they get it done when they need to.

Might the Pacers’ starters be able to hang with the champs better in the fourth quarter if their reserves had given them a little more production and rest earlier in the game?

That question may still linger if Indiana doesn’t turn this series back around on Monday. To do that, they’ll need more production from the bench.

Forget style points, Pacers get where they hoped to be

By Steve Aschburner,

VIDEO: Hawks vs. Pacers: Game 7

INDIANAPOLIS – Maybe this is how it’s going to go for the Indiana Pacers.

No “A” game, no style points, no drive-by games or series. Real skin-of-their-teeth stuff.

No collapses either, though, not in any complete or fatal sense. Stubbed toes, sure, but no missed steps. No coach or teammate thrown under the bus, even if Frank Vogel and Roy Hibbert had a few telltale scuff marks from getting kicked briefly to the curb.

The Pacers, the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, dispatched their first-round opponents with a decisive 92-80 beating Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, advancing to the East semifinal round against the Washington Wizards. That represents everything they could have done to this point, right? There was no bye available to skip directly to the East finals, no bonus to be had (beyond a few extra days off) for doing in four or five games what they accomplished in seven.

Then again, it took Indiana the maximum to get past the No. 8 seed, a sub-.500 entry whose best player (Al Horford) hasn’t played a lick since December due to injury. The Pacers were pushed to flex their home-court advantage about a month earlier than they’d planned and even then, they only went 2-2 at BLFH in the series.

Even then, it took the Hawks missing 59 of 79 3-pointers (25.3 percent accuracy) in Games 6 and 7 combined for the Pacers to put them down. Atlanta shot 38.5 percent in the series, 30.4 in the clincher. Indiana did block 13 shots (six by David West, five by Hibbert and a breathtaking snuff at the halftime horn by Ian Mahinmi against a dunk-minded Jeff Teague), but it was clear the Hawks felt they misfired way too often on their own.

“I think it’s always important,” Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer said, “to give the defense credit when we don’t shoot well, but … I thought we had some good looks at the rim, some good looks in transition. We had some good looks at three’s.”

In other words, no disrespect to the Pacers but Paul Millsap (6-of-21), Teague (5-of-16), Mike Scott (5-of-14) and the rest would like a few of those looks again, please.

All of which is to say, Indiana got done what it was supposed to and, frankly, what it had to do to avoid a summer of a thousand cuts. People have been poised to either proclaim the Pacers back or pronounce them dead, and here they are, two weeks into the postseason, right where they and everyone expected them to be.

Mission (gasp!) accomplished.

Dominant? No. Despite Paul George‘s huge game (30 points, 11 rebounds) and series (six double-doubles) and some early-season defensive stats, most inside and outside the Pacers’ circle have been fooled too often by false starts – vs. Chicago, vs. Miami, vs. OKC – to claim they’re back-back.

But disqualified? No, not that either. They remain somewhere in the middle, not exactly who they’d been but stirring a bit from what they had become. No longer headliners, not yet flatliners.

Pacers’ coach Frank Vogel couldn’t lie when asked if the mood in his locker room afterward was more elation or relief. “I don’t know, maybe a little of both,” he said.

Vogel has been the guy with his fingers in the dyke as Indiana, so stellar in the season’s first half, sprang leak after leak after leak. Defense, confidence, George’s shooting, chemistry, Hibbert’s emotional state and so on – Vogel was on the verge of doffing a shoe and a sock, the way the leaks kept opening.

“I don’t feel like we ever strayed that far from who we are, especially on the defensive end,” Vogel said, resolutely half-full vs. half-empty.

Hibbert’s big fade late in the season was blamed on fatigue. His near-disappearance in this series got attributed to a “matchup challenge,” Atlanta’s “stretch five” attack stranding him in no man’s land defensively. While there was considerable truth in that, the 7-foot-2 center and the guys who play around him were relieved that he roused from the slab in Game 7.

He’d been no factor in the previous three, totaling six points, five rebounds and four blocks in 49 minutes. But he topped that in just 31 this time: 13 points, seven rebounds and five blocks. Vogel gave Hibbert credit for 4-for-6 shooting in the first half and the big guy tied for the game’s top plus/minus with 16. He’d been minus-12 in a mere 12 minutes in Game 6.

This was a man who finally could exhale. And look forward to a foe in the next round with some legit bigs (Washington’s Marcin Gortat and Nene).

“Despite what everybody says, we know we’re a good team,” Hibbert said. “Nobody said it was going to be easy. One thing Coach talked to us was, when the Celtics won their [2008] championship, they got taken to seven games by the Atlanta Hawks [in the first round]. So I’m sure people were talking about them as well.”

Uh, not like this.

But that’s where Indiana is at now, the what crowding out the how as they try simply to win four more in the next seven.

“I’m not going to lie and say I wasn’t concerned. Of course,” forward Chris Copeland said. “I hate to get into that. I believe it feeds negativity. I don’t like to acknowledge anything other than the success we’ve had. For me, we should just keep looking up.

“When you keep looking back and saying, ‘We’ve had struggles, and this and that,’ I think it brings on second-guessing yourself. Are we back? You start to question.

“Everything to me, despite the bumps in the road, has gone fine to this point, when you really think about it. Where did we go? We went to the next level. Now we’re 0-0 just like we would like to be. Let’s just keep it moving.”

Maybe it goes like this for Indiana, grimier, less convincing, for another round. Or more.

Blogtable: The Vogel dilemma

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.

BLOGTABLE: Winners, losers so far | The Vogel dilemma

VIDEO: Inside the NBA looks at the Hawks’ last win over the Pacers and the rest of the series

> We’ve asked before, but it’s critical now: Is there anything Frank Vogel can do?

Steve Aschburner, It’s awfully late, perhaps too late for Vogel to make a bold move and stop his team’s freefall. But the straw he can grasp at is sitting down Roy Hibbert completely for what’s left of the Atlanta series. The big fellow has a bad matchup defensively vs. Pero Antic in the Hawks’ “stretch 5″ attack and doesn’t have a comparable edge at the other end because he’s not a go-to low-post guy. Get Chris Copeland or Luis Scola in there and see what happens, Hibbert’s fragile confidence be darned. Vogel soon enough will have either a new series – or a long offseason – to rebuild it.

Fran Blinebury, Vogel could take one of those hammers out of the bag from my previous answer. Or he could try to find a jersey that would fit 57-year-old Larry Bird. Or call the bowling alley for Andrew Bynum.  It’s not exactly the time to turn the season over to Ian Mahinmi. All you can do is appeal to their pride and their professionalism — if there’s any left — and go back to the fundamentals of training camp.

Frank Vogel (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Frank Vogel (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, I’m not a religious man. But I pray.

Scott Howard-Cooper, No, it was critical before. We know this with hindsight because whatever funk the Pacers fell in, they never really came out. An occasional good moment, a lot of bad moments as the problems lingered. As for now, I would obviously consider a lineup change. That’s the natural reaction, and it’s not like I would have anything to lose at this point. Keep digging for answers.

John Schuhmann, He has to play small and short. By “small,” I mean that he should play David West at center, give Chris Copeland some playing time, space the floor, and defend the floor-spacing Hawks. By “short,” I mean to limit the rotation to guys that might actually contribute in a positive fashion. Play George Hill, Lance Stephenson, C.J. Watson and Paul George on the perimeter, with West, Copeland and Luis Scola up front. Evan Turner’s been as much of a disaster defensively as Roy Hibbert has been offensively.

Sekou Smith, Critical? How about a Code Red? If you’re Vogel, all you can really do is pray the Hawks stop knocking down 3-pointers. Seriously, I don’t think there is any coming back from the humiliation that the Pacers are drowning in against the Hawks. Vogel is a good man, a good coach and probably doesn’t deserve everyone piling on him right now. That said, it’s ultimately his responsibility to make sure his team is prepared for the challenges of the playoffs. And the fact that the No. 1 seed Pacers cannot solve the No. 8 seed Hawks speaks volumes about the disconnect between Vogel and his locker room.

Lang Whitaker, All Ball Blog: As a lifelong Hawks watcher, the most chilling thing to me was at the end of Game 5 when Vogel finally put in Chris Copeland and the Pacers suddenly looked alive. He’s had that option tethered to the bench most of the season — playing smaller and creating more drive-and-kick space. But that mostly requires Hibbert on the bench. Maybe they stumbled into it, but the Pacers seem to have found a lineup concerned with action than reaction. Whether or not Vogel can commit to go small and seat franchise center Roy Hibbert on the bench the rest of the way against the Hawks is another matter altogether.

Pacers’ Game 7 Quest A Worthy Goal

VIDEO: Paul George scores 36 as the Pacers take down the Clippers

Be careful what you wish for.

As adages go, it’s not the most inspiring, right? Chase your dream, go for it, you only live once, flyin’ high now … except maybe you’ll regret it later. It’s the kind of conflicted message that, imparted at just the right time in a person’s life, keeps the shrinks’ and therapists’ kids in private schools.

The Indiana Pacers aren’t worried about all that. They want what they want. And they want home-court advantage in the NBA playoffs, specifically in the Eastern Conference finals (should they manage to get there).

They want it for the same reason they’re supposed to want Andrew Bynum – so the Miami Heat can’t have it. The value of being at home for the ultimate game in a best-of-seven series was seered into the Pacers’ brains June 3 – Miami 99, Indiana 76 – and has been the clearest, most shining goal in their tear through the season’s first half with the league’s best record.

The obvious downside, potentially, is that chasing that regular-season goal might sabotage the Pacers in their pursuit of the bigger prize: the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Coach Frank Vogel, breakout star Paul George, center Roy Hibbert – the ViceRoy of Verticality – and the rest have been asked about the potential for stubbing their toes almost as much as they’ve been asked about the championship itself.

Yet here they sit, nearly halfway through the grind, with a 3.5-game lead over the Heat and 1.5 over San Antonio and Portland in the Western Conference. None of the Pacers has broken down, no one has come up lame. They open their longest trip of the season Monday night at Golden State, a five-gamer bouncing through the West, showing no signs of flagging or peaking too soon.

Indiana targeted its brass ring for the season and methodically has gone after it. It has given them an identity and a purpose, and imposed some order on what – for the best teams, the ones likeliest to be playing in June – can be an amorphous and ponderous six months.

This has not been a burden, George said Saturday after a 106-92 victory over the Clippers.

“Not really. I don’t see it within this whole locker room,” the Pacers’ All-Star guard said. “It feels great going out there. I really don’t see it draining us. We just want to build habits for our team right now.”

The Miami Heat can scoff, wag a finger and remind the Pacers and their fans that one false move in a Game 1 or Game 2 come springtime – a squandered lead, a fluke play late – can flip the home-court advantage back to them. The two-time defending champions also can talk ominously about burnout, overuse injuries or other ills that could befall Indiana as a result of pushing so hard through 82.

Now, the Heat didn’t much heed such talk when they were winning 27 in a row last winter. But they have earned the right to “manage” the schedule and, given Miami’s roster, discretion rather than over-exertion is the better part of valor. The same might hold for San Antonio with its wrinkled wonders, though pacing the Spurs through the regular season hasn’t brought a ring home lately. The last time San Antonio won (2007), its main guys still were relatively teething.

Biggest difference, DefRtg vs. league average
Team Season DefRtg Lg. avg. Diff.
Indiana 2013-14 92.6 102.9 -10.3
Boston 2007-08 96.2 104.7 -8.6
San Antonio 2003-04 91.6 100.0 -8.5
New York 1992-93 97.1 105.3 -8.2
New York 1993-94 95.8 103.6 -7.8
Detroit 2003-04 92.5 100.0 -7.5
San Antonio 2004-05 95.8 103.1 -7.3
San Antonio 1998-99 92.1 99.2 -7.1
Chicago 2010-11 97.4 104.5 -7.1
Chicago 2006-07 97.0 103.7 -6.7
Since turnovers started being counted in 1977-78
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions

Developing habits, throwing victories on the pile and working game-by-game through the schedule as if building something magnificent brick-by-brick suits these Pacers. They’re young enough: George and Lance Stephenson are 23, Hibbert just turned 27, point guard George Hill is 27, and they’re the only guys averaging 30 minutes or more. They’ve been healthy: with the exception of Danny Granger, Hill (three) is the only member of their top nine who has missed more than one game.

Besides, it’s not as if they’re going to suddenly decide: “Nah, never mind. Not worth it.” Indiana is 21-1 at home this season. The Pacers have had a home-court edge like few teams, dating back to before several on this season’s team were born: 25 consecutive winning seasons in Indianapolis.

Bankers Life Fieldhouse was packed and crazed Saturday, on a snowy January night despite whiteout conditions on the highways leading downtown. And before Game 7 last June, there was Game 6, a blowout Pacers victory in which LeBron James was a minus-22.

By the way, in that game, Indiana’s reserves chipped in just eight points on 3-of-5 shooting. But that was then – this season’s bench is one reason Vogel and the Pacers feel they can push hard and go deep. Where once there was Tyler Hansbrough, D.J. Augustin and Sam Young, there is Luis Scola, C.J. Watson and Granger, renewed after his knee and calf layoffs.

Scola is shooting 50.2 percent and matching his career best of 10.4 rebounds per 36 minutes. Watson has been shooting 51.3 percent in fourth quarters, including 43.9 percent from 3-point range, with 46 percent of his makes coming in that quarter. Granger patiently probed the Clippers defense Saturday, gave Doc Rivers‘ crew another threat to account for and wound up with 12 points, scoring in double figures for the ninth time in 14 games back.

“We’ve got a lot of weapons in this locker room and we’ve always had a next-man-up mentality,” said power forward David West, who seemingly put Indiana in harm’s way Saturday with his flagrant-2 foul on Blake Griffin at the end of the second quarter. “If a guy goes down – like tonight, I got ejected, or a guy gets injured – the next guy’s got to be ready to step up.”

Every team and coach in the NBA says that, and it’s easy for the ones that have stayed healthy. Then again, real depth is real depth.

“I think we wear teams down,” backup forward Chris Copeland said. “We go as-many-players-as-you-want deep. Every lineup, every unit that [Vogel] puts on the floor is dangerous.”

Pretty much: Of Vogel’s top 10 heavily used lineups, only one (Hibbert, George, Hill, Scola and Orlando Johnson) has been “underwater” with a 79.9 offensive rating vs. 107.6 defensive rating. And they’ve been on the floor together just 30 minutes out of 1,877 this season.

Otherwise, the Pacers have been taking names and kicking rears. They have lost two games in a row only once so far, and of their seven defeats, five have come on the second night of back-to-back games. And guess what? There are no back-to-backs in the playoffs.

Look, be careful what you wish for isn’t bad advice. At its core, it suggests a cautious approach while, y’know, still wishing for something big. Literature, film and TV are rife with examples of great quests that end without payoff: The Maltese Falcon that inspired so much skullduggery ends up being a fake in the end. The ark that propelled Indiana Jones across continents is crated and warehoused by the end of Raiders. Don’t even get me started on Moby Dick.

But the Pacers’ hearts want what they want, and there’s no putting them off that goal now. If they get it, and even if Miami or someone else snatches away the home-court advantage early in a series, Indiana still will have at home – where its players, coaches and fans believe it matters – any Game 7 it faces.

That is worth chasing.

Anatomy, And Appreciation, Of Paul George’s ‘Dunk Of Year’

VIDEO: Paul George throws down a 360-degree windmill dunk against the Clippers.

INDIANAPOLIS – What Paul George pulled out of the trick bag midway through the fourth quarter Saturday night, for the record, isn’t even something he unleashes in practice. If anything, The Dunk That Briefly Blew Up The Internet at Bankers Life Fieldhouse is reserved for the layup line, a reward for those paying attention but mostly to get some adrenaline pumping for George and his Indiana Pacers teammates.

“I always say, ‘You can’t do that in a game,’ ” teammate Lance Stephenson said later. “But he did it tonight. He didn’t say nothing, but I know he was like, ‘Told ya I could do it.’ ”

There were six minutes left. George already had 34 points, his 3-pointer moments earlier pushing Indiana’s lead over the Los Angeles Clippers back to 20. Challenged by the ejection of forward David West for a flagrant-2 foul (high elbow swipe) on the Clippers’ Blake Griffin at the end of the second quarter, the Pacers used a 13-2 run up to the quarter’s midpoint to secure their home record (21-1, making this the 25th consecutive season Indiana has been above .500 at home).

Nothing, at 94-74, was still in doubt. Then George stole the ball from Darren Collison, raced downcourt and went Slam Dunk, uppercase, for the viewing audience.

His 360-degree, windmill throwdown was half-man, half-homage, the sort of thing vintage Vince Carter would save for a late round on All Star Saturday. Play of the Night? More like Dunk of the Season.

“That’s dunk of the year,” said the excitable Stephenson. “I’ve never seen that dunk live in a game before. I wanted to celebrate, but they didn’t call timeout, so … that dunk was crazy.”

Said Pacers reserve Chris Copeland: “That was unbelievable. That would have gotten 10’s in a dunk contest. But in the game? That makes it 10 times more impressive.”

Look at the video embedded with this post. Then look at it again. And again. If a picture’s worth a thousand words, as the saying goes, the highlight clip of George’s dunk saves all of us from struggling – and failing – to properly describe the spontaneity, the creativity and the joy in what he did.

Saves him, too, as he shrugged it off afterward.

“Just getting back to having fun,” George said. “Showin’ I’ve still got it in my legs. Y’know, putting on a show for everybody coming down to support us at Bankers Life.”

But not necessarily inspired by Carter? “Yeah, I mean, he’s definitely a dunker I idolized growing up,” George said. “Again, it was just being out there, playing free and having fun. … I never really practice dunks. I just go out there and whatever happens in a game, I just let it go.”

That raised a question in the locker room that already was burning up Twitter. What’s more impressive: a breathtaking, thoroughly artistic dunk in the open court like the one George had just authored, or something more fierce, challenged in traffic, the dunk that requires as much power as grace to get two points over – or better yet, through – somebody?

This one was huge, especially against the team that — with Griffin, with DeAndre Jordan — rains pebble-grained terror down on the entire league. Yet almost to a man, the Pacers – George included – seemed to prefer the contested throwdown.

“Hmmm, I’d probably say a dunk over somebody. Because there’s defense,” said West, not surprising given his power game. “When you’re out there by yourself, you’re trying to dunk [for the crowd]. When you dunk on somebody, you know they’re trying to stop you.”

Said George: “It’s always better to dunk on somebody. Those are momentum-swingers.  But I guess putting on a show ignites the crowd and it carries the same value as dunking on somebody.”

Copeland split the difference, and imagined George’s dunk graphically plotted as if on shot chart, ranking high in a thicket of all those traffic slams.

“That one right there would top a lot of fierce dunks,” Copeland said. “I personally like fierce dunks. I’d rather see you go over somebody. I think that’s as hard as it gets, to have a body in front of you. Fast-break dunks are not usually as tough as a ‘poster,’ a body, but that one? And I’m not even an open-court guy but that would be on top of my list.

“You saw our reaction on the bench. It speaks for itself.”

What do you think? Check out’s Top 10 Dunks from 2013:

VIDEO: The Top 10 Dunks from 2013.

Hibbert Not Rejecting Early DPOY Talk

VIDEO: Hibbert runs wild, records eight blocks in win over Bucks

Selfishness on a basketball court most frequently manifests itself on offense, where a scorer’s tunnel-vision can lead to gunning or a teammate can seem more like a rival if he looks you off a couple of times down the floor.

Defensively, it shows with gambling too often for steals, roaming far and wide in search of blocks or rebounds or just plain failing to exert oneself. Indiana center Roy Hibbert does none of that. So if he wants to exhibit a little selfishness in terms of individual acclaim, the Pacers have no gripes. His individual goal to be named 2013-14 NBA Defensive Player of the Year would almost certainly lead to, or at least be a big part of, team success.

“Now he’s very vocal about wanting that Defensive Player of the Year, and he’s going out and playing like he wants it,” Pacers guard Paul George said. “In years past, he played like a Defensive Player of the Year but it wasn’t, I don’t think, his goal. Now he’s approaching it as a goal.”

The 7-foot-2 Hibbert, who will turn 27 on Dec. 11, has brought it up in interviews unsolicited. He has posted about it on Twitter. All the chatter serves as motivation, publicly challenging himself the way a smoker might announce and track his quitting. There’s nothing covetous about his stated goals, and definitely nothing new in his game.

“I’m doing the exact same things I was doing last year,” Hibbert said after Indiana’s game last weekend in Chicago. “I worked on putting on a little bit more size. But I swear, I didn’t really work on defense at all this summer. This is how I’ve always been playing.”

Only better. Hibbert, through the first 10 games, was averaging 4.6 blocks, a career high (his previous was 2.6 last season). And the obstacle he presents in the paint has been a mental block as well as a physical one for opposing shooters; they’re converting only 35 percent of their attempts at the rim, according to Compare that to Dwight Howard‘s early-season rate of 47.7 percent or DeAndre Jordan‘s 63 percent.

“He’s gotten a little better each year in that regard, but he’s been doing close to what he’s doing now,” Indiana coach Frank Vogel said. “The league’s just recognized it.

“I thought he should have won [DPOY] last year. There were a lot of deserving guys out there, but in my mind, he’s the best rim protector in the game. We were the best defensive team last year. So far we’re the best defensive team this year. And he’s the anchor of our defense.”

VIDEO: Arena Link with Roy Hibbert about his solid start to the season

Hibbert’s commitment to his craft — working with the obvious advantage of his length but not all that much more when he got to Indianapolis — has been widely chronicled. And respected.

“You have to give him a lot of credit,” said coach Tom Thibodeau, the Bulls’ connoisseur of defense. “He was a highly skilled player in college at Georgetown. But he did a great job with his body — he changed his body when he got into the league, and that takes a serious commitment. Each year he’s gotten better. And he’s embraced his role with that team. He’s not worried about his offense. He does his role — he stars in his role.”

New Pacers forward Chris Copeland has peeked behind the curtain at Hibbert’s game.

“I didn’t know, playing against him, how good he was,” Copeland said. “Actually seeing him every day — you don’t really get to know a guy until you practice with him and see his work ethic and things he does behind the scenes — he’s phenomenal. People who think he’s good already, he’s going to surprise a lot of them.

“I can’t speak for other teams but I think he affects their game plans. And he’s playing both sides of the ball — offensively, he’s a load as well. You’ve got to throw him up there with the best in the game.”

While Hibbert is busy opening eyes around the league, he already has done that among the NBA’s officials. Maybe the biggest change this season is how consistent the referees have been in adjudicating Hibbert’s work around the basket when met by attacking ballhandlers. He has become the gold standard in the “law of verticality” (as his block on Carmelo Anthony in the 2013 East semis demonstrated) that spells the difference between foul trouble and interior intimidation.

Hibbert started regularly getting those calls last season, especially in the playoffs, and it has continued.

“I mean, they’re used to it now,” Hibbert said. “But also, I tell ‘em, ‘If I’m not straight up, if I’m turning, call a foul.’ So I can learn. And they’ve been doing that. When I go straight up, they’ve been giving me the benefit of the doubt. When I don’t, I’ve got to learn somehow.”

Hibbert’s shot-blocking rate, if it lasts, would make him the first NBA defender to average 4.6 since Manute Bol (4.96) in 1985-86. Hakeem Olajuwon averaged 4.59 four years after that. Dikembe Mutombo (4.49 in 1995-96) was the most recent player to average more than 4.0. Regardless of the number, Hibbert sounds proud of how he collects them without warping his or his team’s game.

“There are a lot of guys who lead the league in shot-blocking, but they are ‘help’ shot blockers,” the big man said. “So they just roam around and block shots and grab offensive rebounds. Me, I take pride in guarding [Carlos] Boozer, guarding [Joakim] Noah 1-on-1 in the post. Guarding whoever it is. So I feel like I can do both: help-side, shot-blocking defense and on-the-ball defense. Some guys aren’t great on the ball. I want to be able to do both.”

As much as the Pacers value Hibbert’s inside work, he appreciates the offensive options around him — George’s burgeoning game, David West‘s mid-range pops — that keep him fresh at the other end. “I can focus all my energy on defense and maybe still get 10 points just off offensive rebounds or little duck-ins,” he said. “I know my place. I’m not going to be one of those 18-20 points-a-game guys. I want to be a 15-10, 13-10, be solid. And get some blocks.”

A trophy, too. It’s not a chant that trips lightly off the tongue — “DPOY! DPOY!” — when he steps to the foul line. But Hibbert will settle for hearing it once, at season’s end.

VIDEO: Roy Hibbert records seven blocks on opening night

Barking Without Bite Still Pricey For Boozer, Copeland

The feisty Carlos Boozer received his first technical and ejection of the season in last night's romp of the Pacers.

Carlos Boozer received his first ejection of the season last night against the Pacers (Ned Dishman/NBAE/Getty Images).

CHICAGO – Near the end of the Indiana-Chicago game Saturday night at United Center, Carlos Boozer and Chris Copeland exchanged some shoves and some words. Wham! Bam! Referee Marc Davis got them T’d up, ejected and off the floor quickly, and upheld it all after a replay review.

Many in attendance, especially some former players now in the employ of the two teams, and in the locker rooms were a little startled at the severity of the penalties.

“Honestly, I have never been ejected from anything a day in my life,” Copeland said afterward, welcoming the chance to give his interpretation. “It’s not who I am, it’s not what I’m about. But I felt like at the end of the game, I felt him push me in my back after the play was over. I felt it was unnecessary. I’m not here for that.

“I didn’t think it was an ejection-type situation. I thought it was just, you push me, I push you back.”

It was woofing, all bark, no bite. From the refs’ standpoint, it might have made sense to douse things before a fuse could get lit, given the history of orneriness and vague dislike between the two teams, as well as a game that already was decided if not quite over.

Problem is, the technical fouls will cost Boozer and Copeland $2,000 each, the ejections cost another $2,000 and both count toward their season totals, which can lead to escalating fines, unless something gets rescinded from the league office Monday. Some longtime observers in the arena thought dueling technicals, one each, might have been more appropriate.

“I respect [the decision],” Copeland said. “I just hope it’s not anything serious.

“I just wanted to defend myself as a human, blindsided, cheap-shot pushed in the back. I felt that’s not cool, I’m not going to let you do that.”

The technicals and the ejections were the first each this season for both players. Already this season, the NBA has rescinded technical fouls called in the moment against Carmelo Anthony (Oct. 30 vs. Milwaukee) and Isaiah Thomas (Nov. 1 vs. the Clippers).

Copeland’s Journey Took Him Much Farther Than New York To Indiana

VIDEO: Chris Copeland talks at Pacers Media Day

DALLAS – Begin to ask Chris Copeland how surreal it …; and the Indiana Pacers’ dread-locked power forward interrupts, “You mean my whole entire story?”

No, not that. Start in again and ask him about his stunning relocation from …; and Copeland again interrupts, “From Belgium?”

Actually from New York to Indiana.

In many ways, the 29-year-old (former) ever-hopeful overseas-league veteran remains more awe-struck by his winding journey through Europe that landed him in the NBA with the Knicks than by his surprising defection to the Pacers.

“Any time we can take a weapon away from someone else and put him on our team that’s always a good thing,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “He’s someone that puts defenses’ nervous systems on [tilt]. He’s such a good shooter that you have to honor him and he gives you immediate spacing.”

The 6-foot-8, 235-pounder boasting coveted 3-point range is part of the Pacers’ reinforced and much-ballyhooed bench unit. He indeed can be a weapon. At some point he’ll even stop pinching himself as a reminder that he is actually living the dream that always seemed like a slowly rolling loose rebound, right there to snare, but always just beyond his finger tips.

Last season as the Class of 2006’s lone rookie, Copeland averaged 8.7 points in 15.4 mpg. He shot 42.1 percent from beyond the arc, tops among all rookies, second among power forwards and 13th overall. He made $473,604 with the Knicks. He’ll make $6.1 million over the next two seasons with the Pacers.

“I pinch myself every day,” Copeland told last Friday prior to Indiana’s final preseason game against the Mavericks. “Even being here now I feel like I’m going to wake up back overseas somewhere saying, ‘OK, that was a good dream, that was a good one.’ It’s definitely surreal.”

Copeland played four seasons at Colorado and spent 2006-07 with the defunct Fort Worth Flyers of the NBA Development League before launching a European career. First came Spain, then Germany and, most recently Belgium, where he posted 18.5 ppg and 5.6 rpg over two seasons with Okapi Aalstar.

He had waited year after year for the NBA to call, for all the hard work to once-and-for-all reward him with his big break. Yet each passing birthday seemed only to kick the NBA further down the road. Only a few who’ve traveled this path find storybook endings. Gary Neal was 26 when he seized upon the San Antonio Spurs’ invite to leave Europe for a shot at Summer League. P.J. Tucker was 27 when the Phoenix Suns gave him a shot to resurrect his brief NBA career after five years overseas.

“You always have your days when you’re tired, but it’s a dream my family and I said when I was really small that that’s what I was going to do,” Copeland said. “It’s hard to turn my back or take days off. And to lay down that dream was impossible. That’s why, I mean, I shed a lot of tears over this game. I made promises that I wanted to keep to certain people. I just couldn’t, I couldn’t just fold.”

Six years after leaving Colorado, he got a call to join the Knicks in Summer League. Copeland was the team’s best player and he made the Knicks’ roster, eventually becoming a key rotation player. The Pacers, having taken the Miami Heat to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, were determined to strengthen their bench. They presented the restricted free agent with an offer sheet that the salary-cap-strapped Knicks couldn’t match.

Just like that, Copeland was headed to the hated Pacers, the team that dumped the Knicks in the East semifinals.

“[New York] was definitely a place I fell in love with, but here I am,” Copeland said. “It’s still funny, we make jokes about each other, the battles that we had last year. It’s definitely a change of atmosphere. They were our rivals, which was tough on the decision-making process, but it’s a great group of guys, a great staff. I don’t regret it. I’m glad I’m here.”

He joins crafty forward Luis Scola and veteran point guard C.J. Watson on a Pacers bench that will also include either Lance Stephenson or Danny Granger depending which one Vogel tabs as the starter (Granger will miss the first three weeks of the season with a calf injury). Copeland hasn’t demonstrated his long-range touch quite yet, connecting in the preseason on just 9-of-41 (22.2 percent) from 3-point range where he’s launched all but 14 of his shot attempts. But no one’s counting just yet.

“The biggest thing for Chris is to get acclimated to our system defensively,” David West said. “Obviously we know he can play offense. He can shoot the ball, he can score, but he’s got to get acclimated to how we play defensively because we’re a defensive-minded team first. But he’s going to help us at various points throughout the year.”

One Team, One Stat: Pacers Defend It All

From Media Day until opening night,’s John Schuhmann will provide a key stat for each team in the league and show you, with film and analysis, why it matters. Up next are the Indiana Pacers, who were one game away from reaching The Finals..

The basics
IND Rank
W-L 49-32 8
Pace 92.8 25
OffRtg 101.6 19
DefRtg 96.6 1
NetRtg +5.0 7

The stat

1st - Where the Pacers ranked in defending the restricted area, defending corner threes, and defending above-the-break threes.

The context

Those are the three most important areas of the floor, so yeah, the Pacers had the best defense in the league. The last team to lead the league in defending the restricted area and the 3-point line was the 2000-01 Spurs.

Roy Hibbert was largely responsible for the Pacers’ success at defending the rim. Indiana opponents shot just 50.4 percent in the restricted area with Hibbert on the floor, the lowest mark for any defender in the league who faced at least 500 restricted-area shots from opponents. Indy opponents shot 57.2 percent in the restricted area with Hibbert off the floor.

The general idea behind the Pacers’ defense is that, with Paul George sticking to the opponent’s best wing scorer (even through screens), Hibbert was able to stay home at the rim and the other guys were able to stay at home on shooters. Of course, that’s a lot more simple than it really is, and the Pacers do help off their man. They just don’t over-help and make the same communication mistakes that we saw in the Nets’ video last week.

Here are clips from Game 6 of the first round, where the Hawks shot just 9-for-19 from the restricted area and 3-for-19 from 3-point range…

The Pacers’ biggest issue last season was their bench. But their bench defended the 3-point line a lot better than their starters did. In the regular season at least, Indiana’s depth issues were all about offense.

Pacers’ efficiency and opponent 3-point shooting, regular season

Lineups MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/- Opp3PM Opp3PA Opp3PT%
Starters 1,218 108.6 96.5 +12.1 +284 136 376 36.2%
Other lineups 2,698 98.5 96.7 +1.8 +42 304 968 31.4%

A lot of that is the opposing lineups the bench was facing. The were facing other reserves who didn’t shoot as well or even create as many open shots. But that 36.2 percent from beyond the arc that the starters allowed would have ranked 19th in the league. And every player in the Pacers’ rotation had a on-court DefRtg of less than 99 points per 100 possessions. After Tony Allen (94.3), Gerald Green had the lowest on-court DefRtg (95.1) among players who logged at least 1,000 minutes last season.

The playoffs were a different story though…

Pacers’ efficiency and opponent 3-point shooting, playoffs

Lineups MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/- Opp3PM Opp3PA Opp3PT%
Starters 414 109.5 94.7 +14.8 +126 49 146 33.6%
Other lineups 502 94.5 107.4 -12.9 -123 85 231 36.8%

So the Pacers went shopping for a bench this summer. They said goodbye to D.J. Augustin, Green, Tyler Hansbrough and Sam Young, bringing in Chris Copeland, Luis Scola and C.J. Watson. The return of Danny Granger also boosts the second-unit offense, whether it’s Granger or Lance Stephenson coming off the bench.

The Pacers’ offense should definitely be better. But it will be interesting to see if the second-unit defense is as strong as it was last season. As both the Bulls and Pacers have shown over the last few years, ranking No. 1 defensively takes 10 guys.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions