Posts Tagged ‘Frank Vogel’

Blogtable: Tweaking Indiana

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: Indy’s roster tweaks | Style police | Most dynamic duo



VIDEO: Paul George on rival Miami, and Indiana’s own offensive struggles

> Indiana does not look good. Are Larry Bird’s roster tweaks (Evan Turner, Andrew Bynum) ever going to help? What next?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Yes, it is getting late for the Pacers. Bynum was a calculated risk who might not pan out after all – maybe he can sign with and not play for all 30 teams before he’s done. Turner needs only to be better than more-rusty-than-recovered Danny Granger, and that still might happen in time to make a difference. Indiana’s stagnant offense has slowed Turner’s impact (not the other way around), but ultimately this team rises or falls on its starting five

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Turner has been underwhelming and Bynum barely on the court.  It was always questionable how much Turner would help them because, in order to get the most out of his offense in Philly, he needed the ball in his hands a great deal of the time.  He’s just not an instant-offense type player.  If Bynum is nothing more than an occasional contributor, the thin offensive production has not been improved.  The Pacers are going to have to do it all with their defense and that’s probably too much to ask.

Evan Turner (Ron Hoskins/NBAE)

Evan Turner (Ron Hoskins/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Help? Looks like those moves have demoralized his team, not that I heard anyone, including myself, suggest such a thing might happen at the time of either big move. Andrew Bynum’s done, so forget that. Shipping off Danny Granger seems to have done a psychological number on this young team who looked up to the former All-Star. It really was a great feel-good story with Granger coming back, albeit in a reduced role, and, yes, he didn’t exactly sprint out of the gate, but … now he’s helping the streaking Clippers, who really needed a boost on the wing.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Evan Turner will help a little, which is all anyone should have ever expected. How good did people think he was when the 76ers couldn’t give him away? Turner for Danny Granger was a good trade for the Pacers because it gave them someone with a better chance to contribute here and there than Granger. If Turner wins a playoff game for Indy with a bench spark, that’s a reasonable return. Take that approach and multiply it times a thousand for Bynum. He may never help, which, again, should have been expected all along. What next if neither help? There is no next. Just the roster that will defend their guts out and can beat anyone four times in seven games without Turner and Bynum.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I doubt that Bynum’s going to help. Even if he does get healthy, Frank Vogel might trust Ian Mahinmi more in the postseason. Turner has never been an efficient scorer, so even when he has a good game, he’s not going to give them a huge lift. But there doesn’t necessarily need to be a “what’s next.” This was the best team in the league for four months with a defense that was able to stop the most potent offenses. They could certainly find their footing and get back to that level.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comI didn’t think the roster tweaks were necessary. When you are already running ahead of the pack in the conference, roster tweaks are a luxury. Larry Bird was praised by most for being proactive, as he should have been. Turner and Bynum aren’t the Pacers’ problem. It’s their core guys — Paul George and Roy Hibbert specifically — who are not playing at the consistently sky-high level they were earlier this season. What’s next is the Pacers’ core group relocating that defensive focus and offensive flow that led them to the top of the Eastern Conference standings … a spot they might not hold on to much longer.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: Put it this way: I don’t really thing Bird’s roster tweaks are going to *hurt,* at least long-term. I just think we’re seeing what happens when you make changes on the fly — you have to learn on the fly. This goes against how the Pacers have built their team, taking their time and growing nearly organically. They lost a guy averaging about 9 points a game, sure, but that shouldn’t take a team from being a contender to a pretender. Hopefully they have enough time to figure it all out before the playoffs roll around.

Philipp Dornhegge, NBA Deutschland: Actually, I’m not as concerned about the Pacers as many other people. Indy seems to coast a little, which affects their offense. Paul George has been off lately, Roy Hibbert recently appeared to criticize Lance Stephenson (without mentioning his name) for ball-hogging. All of that indicates that Indy is bored, at least to me. It’s true that Bynum and Turner haven’t helped yet, but the moves also haven’t hurt the team as Bynum came for free and Granger hadn’t given Indiana much. I’m hopeful that both of them will be valuable come playoff time. The only thing that worries me is that the Pacers might lose home-court advantage to the Miami Heat.

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: Is this even about Bird’s roster tweaks anymore? I mean, in any case, the rotation during the playoffs is much shorter than the regular season, with the starters seeing a lot more playing time. If the Pacers have to do better, Paul George’s 30-for-95, David West’s 26-for-72 and Roy Hibbert’s 20-for-48 field-goal shooting efforts in Indiana’s last six games have to improve. If not, Indiana will cede home-court advantage to Miami and could possibly exit the playoffs even before the Conference finals.

Pacers’ funk in win column, offense hits at worst time possible

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Pacers players talk about the team’s loss to the Bulls in Chicago

CHICAGO – The Indiana Pacers know who they’re playing Wednesday night. They know who they’re chasing and fighting, too, in these dwindling days of the NBA regular season and prelude to what matters most.

One team is the Miami Heat. The other is the one staring back at them from the mirror.

The former, they don’t much like. The latter, they barely know. Who are those guys?

“We’ve just been dead, it seems like, on the court lately,” Paul George said after the Pacers’ 89-77 loss to the Chicago Bulls Monday. “That’s not us. That’s not us. We used to be a team that played with a lot of energy and just had fun out there, and I think we kind of lost that along the way.”

The Pacers, once the sweethearts of the Eastern Conference, aren’t even the darlings of their own dressing room anymore. They’re 5-7 since March 4, flailing about offensively and mired in a funk that center Roy Hibbert admitted late in the evening at United Center has become a “big-time concern.”

“I think so,” the Indiana big man said after an 0-for-5, foul-plagued performance. “It’s getting to that point.”

Never mind the getting part, the Pacers are there. They’ll be facing their nemeses from Miami Wednesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse (8 p.m. ET, ESPN) at the worst possible moment. It doesn’t even matter that the two-time defending champs are off their own rails with a 5-7 mark over their last 12 games, too. The Heat, in claiming rings the past two postseasons, earned the right to dither around a little with this regular season, setting themselves up however they chose or, at this point, can for a third title run.

The Pacers, by contrast, set themselves up as a wire-to-wire team — they grabbed the conference standings by the throat with a 16-1 start, while identifying the East’s No. 1 playoff seed as their Grail. They’re still on track, but only barely; Indiana’s lead is down to two games (one in the loss column), with two games remaining (Wednesday and April 11) against their rivals.

The Pacers are fortunate they haven’t already been passed, which would make this funk worse. The Heat? They probably have to take this chase-down seriously, even if they hadn’t wanted to.

Pinning down the start of the Pacers’ problems is tricky. The last 12 games are the ones in which they’ve been under water. They were 9-3 in the stretch that preceded it, still a step down from their early pace, with signs of offensive discombobulation creeping in. Troubles showed up in a late January road trip, in which the Pacers went 2-2 with blowout losses to the Suns and Nuggets.

The what is more apparent than the when: George talked some about “hero ball,” the temptation for players — as the cliché goes, one offered by a reporter anyway — to try to do too much when things go awry.

Typically, that makes them merely go more awry. No, in the Pacers’ case, the what is their offense

“All the rah-rah [junk] we always talked about before, I wish we would do that,” Hibbert said. “I don’t know, we do it one in probably six games sometimes. It just seems like some days we’re not hitting shots. Some days we’re not sharing the ball. And it affects our defense when we can’t score. … Whatever we’re doing offensively just isn’t working on a consistent basis.”

For Hibbert, the wheels started to come off before the All-Star break. Dating back to his past 25 games, the Pacers All-Star center is averaging 8.9 points and 5.8 rebounds while shooting 44.6 percent. But several of his teammates have struggled lately, too. Over the past 10 games, for instance, George is misfiring at a 39 percent rate. Lance Stephenson, who has four triple-doubles in 2013-14, has averaged 2.7 assists his last 10 games. George Hill is shooting 40.0 percent since March 5.

So while there might be some big-picture issues in play, the immediate concern is Indiana’s struggles to put up points and coach Frank Vogel‘s challenge to make that happen.

“I mean, I think we’ve had a difficulty handling the success,” Hibbert said. “We’ve just got to learn — I’ve been taught, we’ve been saying this for a while — to be able to play for each other like we used to. And set people up for easy shots. Everything we take is, very tough contested shots.

“I just look at other teams we play and they just swing, swing, swing the ball until somebody gets an open shot or a wide-open layup. Sometimes you think, how can we get those type of shots where we don’t have to heave something up at the end of the shot clock? That type of stuff, people can’t get into a rhythm. It’s just a lot of 1-on-1 basketball.”

The offensive frustrations and losing, though, haven’t leaked into team character or chemistry.

“No, I mean, we’re great off the court. Family atmosphere,” Hibbert said. “On the court, it just seems like we’re just not clicking. And we should be clicking now toward the end of the season.”

Also, someone had to ask: Did the Pacers get too clever or too ambitious by half in changing up their roster — bringing in Evan Turner, Lavoy Allen and Andrew Bynum, trading away Danny Granger and shedding Orlando Johnson — so deep into what had been a rewarding season?

“I’m not gonna…,” Hibbert said, sounding as if he was editing himself. “I mean, Larry [Bird, Pacers president] is the man in charge. He made the decision that he felt this is the best group to go out there and compete on the floor. So we have to go out there and figure it out.”

After their big-exhale victory over Chicago Friday in Indianapolis, the Pacers knew the schedule was not their friend. They lost in Memphis Saturday before facing the Bulls’ defensive shredder Monday. Neither would be foes recommended to a sputtering offense.

And now it’s Miami, which is like a visit from the in-laws the same evening you just squabbled over the credit card bill. The game Wednesday might not mean all that much, but it’s unlikely to offer a fix. And it could fester into something worse.

“If we don’t figure this thing out and, if we do get to the point this summer and face those guys again… we have to figure this out now,” Hibbert said. “Because they’re such a good team, they’re going to sniff that out. The way we’ve been playing, it’s just, that point where we got to last year isn’t guaranteed.”


VIDEO: NBA TV’s crew talks about the Pacers’ recent struggles on offense

For Scola and Pacers, it’s about fixing carefully what was broken barely

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Pacers stifle Bulls; George tallies triple-double

INDIANAPOLIS – There was a rush to judgment for some inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse Friday night, a desire driven by desperation to declare that the kids were all right. That the Indiana Pacers, in beating a good team (Chicago) in ways most familiar (stifling defense, balanced scoring, ball movement, sweeping of the boards), were back, baby.

It was easy to get drawn into the feel-good atmosphere in the moments soon after the Pacers’ 91-79 victory, a game they blew open in the third quarter and managed comfortably to the end. The numbers stacked up beautifully, an homage to Indiana’s 16-1 start that got everything rolling this season:

  • They held the Bulls to 79 points. The Pacers are 12-0 when doing that in 2013-14.
  • They limited the guys in black to 36.4 percent shooting. Anything under 40 percent, Indiana is 25-2.
  • They controlled the glass 51-36 against a normally sound rebounding team, grabbing 13 on the offensive end. When they’re in double digits at that end, the Pacers are 24-4.
  • They had 27 assists on 34 field goals. They’re 34-3 just cracking 20.
  • And when all five starters score in double figures, this generally kumbaya crew is 12-2.

So the ball was hopping, the Fieldhouse was hot (Indiana guys got the game’s three technical fouls, though Chicago was more frustrated) and the Pacers’ recent worrisome streak – four straight losses earlier this month in which they gave up an average of 106 points, and a clunker in New York Wednesday – was getting brushed off almost blithely. After all, didn’t even coach Frank Vogel embrace Friday’s performance as a statement game about how dominant his guys can be and how legit their aspirations are?

“I think we did remind ourselves of who we are,” Vogel said, “in terms of a potentially suffocating defensive team that plays together on the offensive end and shares the basketball. We have a lot of weapons.”

It was left to Luis Scola to throw a damp blanket over the evening.

“I don’t think we’re out of it yet,” Scola said, soberly coming down from one of his best games this season, a season-high 19 points with 12 in the second quarter when Indiana’s bench jump-started most of the good stuff that followed.

“We just played one good game,” Scola said. “I believe in us, as much as anybody else or more. But we just played one good game.

“It wasn’t just one bad game we had. The longer you’ve been down is probably the longer it’s going to take you to come out of it. … If we go [Saturday] and lose against Memphis, it doesn’t mean nothing. We need to play well. Then we need to go to Chicago and we’ve got to play well again.”

Scola has earned the right to be cautious. No one game this season has fast-tracked his adjustment to contributing off the Pacers bench as a backup and reasonable facsimile for starter David West. Acquired last July from Phoenix, Scola has been inconsistent in the role. At times, he even appeared to regress: he went from 19.1 minutes, 8.4 points and 4.8 rebounds in November to 14.9, 5.8 and 4.8 in February. Those February numbers were eerily similar to the 2012-13 production of Tyler Hansbrough, the fellow over whom Scola was supposed to be such an upgrade.

So far, March has gone a little better individually for Scola – he’s shooting 53.8 percent, after hitting 37.6 percent the first two months of 2014. But this business of fitting in with a proven group and somehow fixing what was, at worst, only slightly broken is tricky. Evan Turner has learned that since arriving at the trade deadline in the surprise deal for Danny Granger. Big Andrew Bynum‘s swollen knee has blocked him from finding out.

“How to fit in and not stop their rhythm,” Turner said Friday of the challenge with which he’s still grappling. “And at the same time not be too passive or overly aggressive. Each night I have to figure out which way I have to play, whether I need to be aggressive or some nights I need to play defense and just pass the ball.”

Vogel takes responsibility for Scola’s limited opportunities or minutes variations – West still is averaging 30 a night, with Scola playing a career-low 17.1. But the Pacers coach didn’t sound bothered or unhappy with the 33-year-old’s impact.

“Scola’s just extremely passionate about playing great basketball,” Vogel said. “I probably have not rewarded him enough when he has a good burst. [He] played the whole second quarter [against Chicago] because he was playing his tail off. He’s a great competitor, great warrior. And a really good basketball player who, when he gets opportunity, he’s going to produce for you.”

Early in the season, Scola was noticeably rattled by the pace of his Indiana learning curve, displeased with his contribution. He didn’t fess up to that Friday but, when pressed, did admit to a new set point for what he considers a good night’s work.

“I’m just happy to be on a good team,” Scola said. “That could be something I learned. I learned it’s more fun to play less on a team like this, vs. play more on a bad team. Which I didn’t know early in the year.

“Playing more was very important to me. And it still is, but if I have to play 30 minutes on a team that is not in the playoffs, it’s less fun than this.”

Forget the sweeping statements for the Pacers or for Scola Friday. Somebody could use the word “fun” in their postgame locker room, and for a night, that was progress enough.

Morning shootaround — March 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Westbrook bangs knee; Durant scores 51 | Gasol leaves in walking boot | Knicks make it eight straight | Nash dishes 11 dimes | Bynum out indefinitely


VIDEO: Closer look at Durant’s 51-point performance

No. 1: Westbrook gets scare, Durant scores 51 — In a wild game at Toronto, Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook left in the third quarter after banging knees with Toronto’s Kyle Lowry. It was Westbrook’s right knee, the one he’s had three surgeries on since initially tearing the meniscus in the first round of last year’s playoffs. He immediately reacted to the pain and slammed his palm on the floor. He was assisted off the floor as the Thunder held their breath. More will be known as Westbrook is re-evaluated in Oklahoma City today. The Thunder won the game in dramatic fashion, 119-118, in double overtime. Kevin Durant capped a remarkable night with his seventh 3-pointer with 1.7 seconds to go, giving him 51 points. Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman has the details:

The official word is a right knee sprain, and the plan is to re-evaluate him Saturday in Oklahoma City.

Although Westbrook didn’t return to the Thunder’s thrilling 119-118 double-overtime victory over the Raptors, he was in great spirits after the game and said he doesn’t expect to miss any time. He left the Air Canada Centre walking just fine, without crutches or even a knee brace, just a routine black sleeve hidden under his pants.

And judging by Westbrook’s demeanor and that of his teammates and coach Scott Brooks, the injury didn’t appear to be serious.

“I feel good, man,” Westbrook said. “I’m pain-free. I’m just going to, (Saturday), get it looked at and go from there.”

The injury occurred with 7:37 remaining in the third quarter.

Westbrook made a slight jab-step beyond the 3-point line on the left wing. As Westbrook held his left foot in place as his pivot, Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry inadvertently bumped into Westbrook’s right knee while closing out.

Westbrook’s knee bent inward, and he immediately called a timeout, slamming the ball to the court upon doing so.

“You’ve been hurt before, you kind of get nervous like I did,” Westbrook said of his reaction.

After briefly attempting to walk off whatever pain or discomfort he was feeling, Westbrook was helped to the locker room by Thunder center Hasheem Thabeet and trainer Joe Sharpe. He remained in the dressing room for the duration of the game as the Thunder battled back from an eight-point deficit inside the final minute of double overtime.

Kevin Durant hit the game-winner, a 3-pointer from 31 feet with 1.7 seconds remaining. He then forced Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan into contested fadeaway from the right baseline. It fell short as the clock hit zero.

Durant finished with a game-high 51 points, his second 50-point game this season, and added 12 rebounds and seven assists.

“We couldn’t go another overtime,” Durant said. “So I had to live with whatever happened.”

***


VIDEO: Gasol injured in Grizzlies’ loss in Miami

No. 2: Gasol sprains left ankle — Midway through the third quarter, Grizzlies center Marc Gasol hobbled off the floor with a sprained left ankle and left the American Airlines Arena floor in a walking boot. It was a double whammy for the Grizzlies, one of the hottest teams in the NBA since Jan. 1. Not only must they wait and wonder about the health of the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, they lost a lead they had held for most of the game as the Heat pulled out the victory. More will be known on the severity of Gasol’s injury, but one thing is certain — Memphis needs its big man in the final month of the regular season to ensure it makes the playoffs, let alone have a chance to return to the Western Conference finals. Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal has more:

Memphis’ bigger issue seemed to be executing without Gasol.

The 7-footer left with 6:34 left in the third period. He was hurt earlier on a non-contact play. Gasol appeared to roll his ankle as he turned to run. Gasol left the arena wearing a walking boot and he’ll be re-evaluated Saturday before the Griz face the Indiana Pacers for the second game of a back-to-back.

“It made it tough, but we tried to play small and stretch them out,” Griz coach Dave Joerger said. “I thought we did a good job of getting it to Zach. He had a heck of a game.”

Gasol had been a force, too, and not just because of his 14 points and six rebounds.

“We were using him to make the second and third pass,” [Mike] Conley said. “He was playing point forward. The whole scheme went through him.”

The game was knotted at 68 entering the fourth quarter after both teams exchanged large scoring runs in the third. Memphis allowed a 12-point advantage to disappear in the final few minutes of the third.

***

No. 3: Knicks keep playoff push alive — The Knicks handed the Philadelphia 76ers their 23rd consecutive loss, but the bigger news was that New York kept its playoff hopes alive despite already having 40 losses as the calendar turns to spring. But that’s the beauty of the Eastern Conference, folks. And with the Atlanta Hawks losing, the Knicks moved within three games of the eighth and final playoff spot. And guess what? New York’s upcoming schedule offers even more hope with games against the hobbled Cavaliers and Lakers followed by the Kings. Peter Botte of the New York Daily News has the story:

With new team president Phil Jackson returning to his California home following his triumphant Garden return two nights earlier, the bench nearly coughed up a 17-point lead in a game the Knicks had controlled with five minutes left. But [Mike] Woodson turned back to his first unit in the final 30 seconds, and the Knicks just barely did what they had to do to survive and advance Friday night against a team that now has dropped 23 straight games, holding on for their season-best eighth straight win, 93-92, over the dreadful Sixers at Wells Fargo Center.

“We didn’t have no choice at that point. I felt like we had a very comfortable lead. It happened. Them guys never quit,” [Carmelo] Anthony said about having to return to the game after it looked like his night was finished. “You could just see the lead dwindling, possession by possession. You go from up (17) and you look up and we’re only up two with a couple of seconds on the clock, so hopefully we didn’t have to come up with a prayer.”

***

No. 4: Nash shines in return — Maybe 40-year-old Steve Nash has something left after all. Fighting injuries all season, the two-time MVP made yet another return Friday night just a week after being declared done for the season. The Los Angeles Lakers still lost to the Washington Wizards, but the aging wizard for L.A. put on quite a show, dishing out a season-high 11 assists to go with five points, four rebounds and three steals in 19 minutes. He came off the bench for the first time since March 9, 2000 with Dallas, snapping a stretch of 975 consecutive starts, reports Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times:

“Just to feel good and feel like you can make a play for your teammates and put pressure on the other team and move freely,” Nash said. “It’s why I love this game and that’s why I’ve kept fighting and trying to work in case I got another opportunity.”

Nash said he came out of the game in the fourth quarter after tweaking his back but remained hopeful he could play Sunday against the Orlando Magic. Lakers guard Xavier Henry also hurt his left wrist and said he would have an MRI exam on Saturday after X-rays were negative.

Nash made his first appearance since Feb. 11, when he suffered a recurrence of the nerve irritation in his back that has limited him to 11 games this season. There was concern in that Nash might never play another NBA game.

Lakers Coach Mike D’Antoni told reporters March 13 that Nash would not return this season because it didn’t make sense for him to push his 40-year-old body with so few games left.

Then Jordan Farmar strained his right groin in practice Monday, opening the door for Nash.
After entering the game to warm applause late in the first quarter, Nash quickly found Hill for a jump hook and made a couple of behind-the-back passes on the way to collecting five assists in his first six minutes.

D’Antoni said Nash probably would continue to come off the bench unless he “gets to a certain point and gets that good” because of limited practice time and the Lakers wanting to be cautious with his body.

Nash has one more season and $9.7 million left on his contract but could be waived by Sept. 1, allowing the Lakers to spread out his salary over three seasons.

He would prefer to prove over the next month that he’s ready to play one more.

***

No. 5:  Swelling puts Bynum on ice — If the Indiana Pacers truly signed big man Andrew Bynum to keep him away from the Miami Heat, well the Heat’s training staff will probably be sending a thank-you card. Experiencing continued swelling and soreness in his right knee, Bynum will be out indefinitely, the team announced Friday. Bynum signed with the Pacers on Feb. 1, but has played in just two games. On a strange note, although not so much when it comes to Bynum, he reportedly got his hair cut at halftime of Friday’s game against Chicago. Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star has more on Bynum’s injury status:

Bynum has played in two games with the Pacers, averaging 11.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in just under 18 minutes per game.

Though the Pacers expected to play Bynum in short spurts, last Saturday he reached 20 minutes against the Detroit Pistons. Since then, Bynum has been on the inactive list.

On Tuesday, Bynum, who did not participate in practice, said after the session that his swollen right knee needed to be drained.

“This one is a lot more concerning for me because it caused me a lot more fluid,” Bynum said.

Now days later, Pacers coach Frank Vogel answered “no” when asked if there had been any progress with Bynum’s knee since the return from Detroit.

“There’s still swelling,” Vogel said on Friday. “I really don’t have anything new. Other than it’s swollen right now, we’ll give you an update when we’re ready to.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Heat present Mike Miller his 2013 championship ring as Grizzlies visit Miami … Tony Parker says he will play five or six more years with Spurs then play for French team he owns … Andre Miller says Nuggets made him out to be the bad guyKevin Garnett is unsure of return from back spasms … Bobcats ask Charlotte for $34.1 million to improve arena.

Don’t expect Pacers to pace themselves

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: David West talks about the Pacers’ approach to the final stretch

INDIANAPOLIS – Tom Thibodeau, not given to chuckling, did just that as the question washed over him. The Chicago Bulls’ head coach shook his head and seemed truly flummoxed.

“I have no idea where that comes from,” Thibodeau said. “I really don’t. What, they should apologize for playing hard? Come on.”

The topic was the Indiana Pacers, the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 team and the Bulls’ opponents Friday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse (7 ET, League Pass). There have been rumblings in the media and the Pacers’ fan base that, maybe, coach Frank Vogel and his guys ought to be, well, pacing themselves better as the regular season runs out and the postseason nears.

Asking Thibodeau about easing through something is like asking Richard Petty if Jimmie Johnson ought to take some pedal off the metal while making all those left turns.

“It’s a long season. There’s going to be some ups and downs. You’ve got to navigate through things. Hey, they’re a terrific team,” Thibodeau said. “You can’t pick and choose when you’re going to play hard and not play hard. When you look at the teams I know… From my own experience, with Boston, that team practiced hard every day, they played hard every day. That’s the way it was.”

It stayed that way when Thibodeau got hired by Chicago. In 2010-11, his team tore through the season at a 62-20 record, securing the No. 1 seed all the way through the Finals if only it had advanced that far (the Bulls lost to Miami in five games one step short). In 2011-12, Chicago’s 50-16 again topped the East, making Thibodeau the fastest coach in league history to rack up 100 victories, though Derrick Rose‘s knee blowout stopped them in the first round.

Thibodeau faces criticism annually for running up minutes on some of his players, certainly during certain needy stretches of each season, and takes heat at least indirectly for the Bulls’ injury history in recent seasons. Yet he and the Bulls are praised for their effort, their energy and their overachievements.

While shrugging that off, Thibodeau claims to have done his homework on workloads and doesn’t feel he – or Vogel, for that matter – is overdoing a thing.

“I don’t see any negative from practicing hard. I don’t see any negative from playing hard,” Thibodeau said. “You’re building habits every time you step out there. I think you’ve got to develop a physical toughness and a mental toughness along the way. Because down the road when you do get there, there’s going to be a lot of fire that you’ve got to go through. And you’ve got to be prepared to deal with it.”

Vogel swats away talk of fatigue and rest with facts. “We don’t have anybody averaging over 35 minutes,” he said. “So I don’t think we’re overplaying guys. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying to win every night. Anybody who tries to convince me otherwise is crazy.”

There was, for instance, a piece on CBSSports.com Thursday (after Indiana’s loss in New York the night before) headlined, “Did the Pacers push too hard, too soon?” It focused on the tightened race with Miami for the East’s No. 1 seed, a goal of the Pacers since Opening Night but one that might not be secured until the season’s final week. If at all, as Ken Berger of that Web site wrote:

Of all the things that the Pacers worked on to try to get back on track, rest hasn’t been one of them. And now, with two of their 14 remaining games against the Heat, there may not be time.

Vogel was off just a bit in his numbers. All-Star wing Paul George tops the Pacers at 35.9 minutes per game, but that’s down from his 2012-13 average of 37.6. Lance Stephenson (35.8) is the only other Indiana player averaging more than 32 minutes and, like George, he’s 23 years old.

The focus on finishing first in the East has driven Indiana most of the season but mocked them a little lately. Since beating Portland on Feb. 7 to reach 39-10, the Pacers have gone 11-8 overall and 0-4 against teams with winning records. This is no time to get well, either, with six of their next season against playoff-bound teams, including Chicago twice, Memphis, Miami and San Antonio.

Then again, panicking isn’t restful either, as forward David West was quoted in the Indianapolis Star:

“We talked in film session today about how we’re not going to overreact to the perception coming from the outside,” [West] said. “I have full confidence in this group. If we had given up the one seed or whatever, that’s one thing. But one of the reasons we got off to a good start was in case we had a stretch like this.”

Thibodeau – whose team has gone 14-5 during the Pacers’ slump, making up only three games in the Central Division – talks of overwork the way MLB war horses Nolan Ryan or Jack Morris might talk about modern hurlers’ pitch counts. No hand-wringing or mollycoddling allowed.

“When you study the teams that win it and you study the drive behind it… any team from when [Larry] Bird played or Magic [Johnson] played, Isiah [Thomas] played, [Michael] Jordan – all those guys had incredible drive. When you hear the stories about the incredible things they did – I know Kevin Garnett with us in Boston – there’s a driving force beind it. I think that’s necessary.

“There’s not a lot of difference between the elite teams,” the Bulls coach added. “It’s will, determination. That’s not something you develop once you get there. You’d better develop it all along the way.”

Vogel did admit to one area of overwork: George has been asked all season to lead the Pacers’ offense, while also serving as their best perimeter defender. It might be time to lighten his defensive load, Vogel revealed.

“Every time he goes 4-for-17, I tell myself we need to do that,” the Indiana coach said after Friday’s shootaround at the Fieldhouse. “So I would expect to see a little of that going forward.

“He’s such a competitive guy that he wants to guard the other team’s best player the whole game. So there’s a little bit of reluctance to take him off some of those guys, and that’s a good thing. But it’s also, I think, smart for our basketball team.”

Just don’t expect to see the Pacers pacing themselves.

Morning Shootaround — March 16


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Jackson adds legitimacy to Knicks | Thunder plan to rest Westbrook | Sixers’ coach talks rebuild | Vogel inspires comeback

No. 1: Jackson adds legitimacy to Knicks – The New York Knicks have not given up hope that they can land LeBron James, as well as Kevin Love or Kevin Durant, over the next three years. It’s a lofty goal, but one they feel they are better positioned to achieve now with Phil Jackson in the front office. Frank Isola of The New York Daily News has more on the situation:

James Dolan never got over losing LeBron James to Pat Riley and the Miami Heat in 2010. And he swore that it would never happen again.

Dolan, the chairman of Madison Square Garden, believes that to get the superstars you need a star as your closer. The Heat has Riley, and now Dolan has Jackson, the winner of 11 titles as a head coach and two as a player.

The fact that Jackson has never run a front office didn’t matter to Dolan. Nor did the outrageous price tag. It cost Dolan a king’s ransom to convince Jackson to leave his beach house for the shark-infested corporate waters at MSG. But it will be money well-spent if Jackson can land the King as well as Kevin Love or Kevin Durant over the next three years.

Jackson is not in this for the long haul. His plan is to get the Knicks back to an elite status quickly, and the only way to do that is via free agency.

The Knicks can have salary flexibility next summer, when Love and Rajon Rondo are available. Durant is free in 2016.

James can opt out this summer and unless he signs a one-year deal or waits until 2015 to opt out, the Knicks have little chance of landing him.

But Dolan and Jackson can dream big. Heat executives, according to a source, are not convinced that James will stay, though in their heart of hearts they believe he will re-sign. But Jackson’s arrival changes things.

“There’s no way LeBron would have gone to New York under the current climate,” said a James confidant. “He had a falling-out with CAA (agency) and that was a problem as well. But with Phil there I think he will look at it.”

***

No. 2: Thunder plan to rest Westbrook – The Oklahoma City Thunder need Russell Westbrook healthy to have a chance to win their first NBA Championship. The Thunder have already enacted a minutes limitation on Westbrook, and now they will rest him on the second end of back-to-back games for the rest of the season. Anthony Slater of NewsOK.com reports:

Of late, the Thunder has had a relatively cushy schedule, not playing a back-to-back since the start of February. But in the season’s final month, OKC will play six.

And according to Scott Brooks, Westbrook will rest in some, if not all, of those.

“There’s going to be some back-to-backs he’s not going to play,” Brooks said. “We definitely have a plan in place.”

However, Brooks refused to reveal specifics on which games Westbrook would rest.

When asked if he’d play against the Mavericks on Sunday and rest against the Bulls on Monday, Brooks said “we’ll let you know tomorrow”.

“His conditioning is great,” Brooks added. “We just want to get some time, while we still can, where he can rest in between games.”

***

No. 3: Sixers’ coach talks rebuild – It’s no secret the Philadelphia 76ers are rebuilding. The team is currently in the midst of a 20-game losing streak which doesn’t seem to be ending soon and the only glimmer of hope has been rookie Michael Carter-Williams. But this does not worry coach Brett Brown, as he expects the rebuild to take three to five years. Dei Lynam of CSN-Philly has the story:

“Any win that we have going forward would be considered an upset,” Brett Brown said before Saturday’s game. “That is just the way it has played out at this stage and that is true.

“We have no margin for error. A missed box out, playing in a crowd and not seeing a teammate, not managing the clock well — all those tiny things are going to influence whether we win or we lose.”

Brown has never experienced futility of this magnitude anywhere in his career. He doesn’t like losing, nor does he accept it, but he also does not let it define who he is or how he goes about his job.

“I work as hard as I can with my staff,” Brown said. “I love coaching my guys. This is basketball. Let’s put this in perspective: We do our job as hard and as best we can. Life moves on. We have bigger things that we are all here for.

“This is not slit-your-wrist time. This is not even close to that. This is about building a program and understanding the short-term pain for a lot of long-term gain.”

Brown is repeatedly asked if a losing atmosphere will adversely affect the likes of Michael Carter-Williams, Thaddeus Young or any of the other players the Sixers deem as keepers.

“That is the en vogue angle,” Brown said. “I think if you ask Kevin Durant about the 20-win season he had, he seems to be doing just fine. I think when you look at those teams that have had a chance to rebuild, losing is a long-gone memory.

“To truly rebuild and grow something is going to take three to five years. That is just the way it goes. It is too talented a league and too well-coached. The experiences we are going through now will be distant memories when these guys start getting older. They will find positives in this season and Michael Carter-Williams will be better for it.”

***

No. 4: Vogel inspires Pacers – The Indiana Pacers looked out-of-sync for most of last night’s game against the Detroit Pistons. They were down by as much as 25 points in the second quarter, but they fought back to beat the Pistons 112-104 in overtime. Pacers’ players credit their coach Frank Vogel for providing them with inspiration to complete the comeback. Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star reports:

Though this was only a Saturday night in March and no team wins championships this soon, as the Pacers fell desperately deeper into a hole against the Detroit Pistons, in their minds, they felt that something special was loosening from their grip. Then, Frank Vogel did something out of character. The smiles and positivity faded into something the Pacers needed and after one of the most honest and scathing halftime speeches in a long time, Indiana responded defeating the Pistons 112-104 in overtime.

The Pacers overcame a deficit that once ballooned to 25 points in the second quarter — on the road — in the second night of a back-to-back.

The ending was just as astonishing, with the Pacers’ defense strangling the Pistons with seven stops in nine overtime possessions, as was the impetus which triggered the best comeback of the season.

There were no flipped tables or needless curse words echoing through the small locker room inside the Palace of Auburn Hills during halftime, but when the Pacers trailed 60-41, Vogel roused his sleepwalkers with the stern reminder of what’s at stake this season.

“Knowing Frank, it was all to light a fuel under us and for me, it worked,” said Paul George, who responded after halftime with 20 of his game-high 30 points, including a third quarter when he swished in jump shot after star-defining jump shot.

“He got into us more so than he has in the past,” recalled Roy Hibbert, who looked like the incredibly shrinking big man before stepping up to hit a tie-breaking free-throw line jumper in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter and play stand-up defense in overtime.

For his part, Vogel refused to go into details of his halftime speech. But the players inside that locker room recalled the talk centering on how the Pacers were throwing away an opportunity. For so long they boldly proclaimed the goal in achieving the No. 1 seed, then backed away from talking about it so publicly, only to be reminded by Vogel on Saturday that that’s why this random night mattered.

“He came in fired up and I felt his energy and this whole locker room felt that energy and came out and made a change,” George said.

“(Vogel) motivated us and long story short, he just talked about what’s at stake and us controlling our destiny,” George continued. “Every game counts and this game, at that point, was getting away from us. So we had to just look within ourselves and figure this out.”

And they did.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Joakim Noah will receive a $500,000 bonus if he makes first-team All-NBA. … Andre Drummond left last night’s game against the Pacers with a head injury. … Paul Pierce mocks Trevor Booker. … Jimmy Butler is still recovering from being run in to by LeBron.

ICYMI of the Night: Paul George is rarely on the receiving end of a put-back dunk. But last night Jonas Jerebko of the Detroit Pistons showed George what it’s like with this monster jam.


VIDEO: Play of the Day: Jonas Jerebko

Danger rears its head for OKC, Indy




VIDEO: The Beat crew talks about the concerns facing some of the league’s elite teams

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – That small market NBA Finals you were daydreaming about is in jeopardy based on what we’ve seen from the likes of the Indiana Pacers, Oklahoma City Thunder and even the Portland Trail Blazers recently.

Early-season visions of say the Pacers and Thunder squaring off in The Finals and restoring the faith of the fans in the hinterlands have faded since before All-Star weekend.

The Pacers’ struggles are real. You don’t lose four straight games, and five of your last 10, and allow 106 points in your past four games and maintain your aura as the defensive juggernaut that we assumed you were based on your work up until now. No matter how much coach Frank Vogel insists that his team is capable of navigating these bumps in the road, we have no idea how they will recover from this stretch because they’ve never been in this position before.

The Thunder’s issues are tangible as well. You don’t lose five of your past eight games, give up 121 points in consecutive games and get torched for 40-point games by the likes of Gerald Green and Jodie Meeks without two of your top defensive players (Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins) and expect us to just chalk it up to a temporary hiccup. Even if all that happens as Russell Westbrook is transitioning back into the mix after missing nine weeks recovering from knee surgery.

Contenders tend to show their teeth this time of year, embrace statement games and remind the competition that what they see now is merely a glimpse of the fury to come in the postseason. But these current struggles, particularly for the Pacers and Thunder, constitute a clear-and-present danger to their big-picture plans.

We are nit-picking at the highest level here, I understand that. But vetting championship contenders is a tedious, season-long process that requires us to examine each and every little tidbit of information gathered. While I don’t agree with the wilder sentiments like this one (of course, the Thunder aren’t trying to get Scott Brooks fired), I do think a contender’s February and March performance is a much better indicator of what’s to come in the playoffs than anything accomplished before then.

And the Pacers and Thunder, two teams that would appear to have as good a chance as any to unseat the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs, respectively, have both shown signs of vulnerability in the past few days and weeks.

In addition to locating their defensive punch, the Pacers need Paul George to regain the form he showed earlier in the season, when he was being mentioned in the MVP conversation with Kevin Durant and LeBron James. The playoffs are looming and a quality team like the Chicago Bulls will identify your weakness and attack it in a best-of-7 series … the same way the Pacers did to the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals last year.

UPDATE:



VIDEO: Pacers coach Frank Vovel talks about Andrew Bynum maing his debut against the Celtics

The Thunder have to worry as much about getting their own house in order as they have to worry about the neighbors. The Spurs, Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers all appear to be as up to the task of winning the Western Conference crown and representing their side in The Finals.

The Spurs have enough corporate knowledge to navigate these rough waters for a second straight season. The Rockets have two stars in James Harden and Dwight Howard, who have just as much experience in The Finals as Durant and Westbrook. And the Clippers, when healthy, have what is arguably the deepest and most balanced roster in the league with one of the game’s best button-pushers (coach Doc Rivers), especially at playoff time, leading their charge.

Momentary hiccups are one thing. All teams, even the great ones, deal with them at one time or another.

Cracks in the foundation, though, require more and immediate attention.

Time will tell which of these the Pacers and Thunder are dealing with …

Morning Shootaround — March 8


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played March 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pacers’ woes start from within | Other side to that coin was Rockets’ paybackPhil Jax rumors blow up in New York | Pierce sees Rondo as the next, well, him | Noah bored by whines about “tampering”

No. 1: Pacers’ woes start from within – To hear Indiana coach Frank Vogel, his team’s claim on the NBA’s best record this season put a target on the Pacers’ backs, turning them into every opponent’s favorite target. While that might be true to some extent, the slump in which Paul George, Roy Hibbert, David West & Co. find themselves now – after suffering their third consecutive loss in the 112-86 rout at Houston Friday – owes more to what Indiana isn’t doing at either end of the court the way it had through the schedule’s first four months. Only the Rockets and the Los Angeles Clippers have avoided a three-game losing streak now, with the Pacers turning to post-game meetings and some mirror-gazing to check theirs, as ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst wrote from Houston:

The Pacers have now lost three in a row for the first time all season and fallen back into a tie with the Heat in the loss column for the best record. But the chase for that top seed, which has been a Pacers priority all season, was not on their minds as midnight passed in that quiet locker room.

“We haven’t talked about the [No. 1 seed] in awhile,” Hibbert said. “We just need to win games at this point. Something has got to change. Something is going to be addressed.”

There were warning signs even when the Pacers were on a five-game winning streak recently as they had to work harder than expected to beat bottom-feeders like the Boston Celtics, Utah Jazz and Milwaukee Bucks.

“Every team we play is playing above themselves,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “Our guys can talk about being the hunted but it’s a different thing to feel it. These teams are coming at us with great force and we’re going to have to rise to the challenge.”

Teams running up the score against the Pacers is not normal. But over the last 10 games their league-best defense has not been league best.

They are allowing 46 percent shooting and 100 points per game in that span. In the first 40 games of the season when they distanced themselves from the rest of the league, they allowed just 41 percent shooting and just 88 points a game.

“We have to get back to what the Indiana Pacers used to be,” George said. “When teams came to play us, they knew it was going to be a long night.”

***

No. 2: Other side to that coin was Rockets’ payback – Twenty-six points isn’t 34, the number Houston’s players had in mind as a way to avenge their 33-point smackdown by Indiana in Indianapolis in December. The Rockets “only” pushed their lead to as many as 32 before settling for the final margin. But as Jonathan Feigen wrote in his Houston Chronicle blog, team and individual payback was very much in play, as the league’s hottest team in calendar year 2014 starts to sniff its potential:

“That’s all we talked about, every time out, every possession, how they blew us out,” Dwight Howard said. “We didn’t want that to happen. We wanted to get payback.”

Yet, as the Rockets put together a stretch [James] Harden would call their best on both ends of the floor, he could have been thinking of much more than just the third-quarter run to a 30-point lead.

“Always wanted to get back against them,” Harden said after scoring 16 of his 28 points in the knockout punch of a third quarter. “The third quarter was probably the best I’ve seen us play offense and defense in one quarter. We were rolling. These last weeks we’ve been rolling on both ends.”

At that moment, as the Pacers called time out the rout was certain, Harden could have been celebrating his own turnaround against the Pacers. When Harden was done for the night before the third quarter had ended, he had made 10 of 17 shots, including 4 of 7 3s. In his seven previous games against the Pacers, he had made 28.4 percent of his shots, just 24.6 percent in his three games against them with the Rockets.

He could have been thinking off the credibility the Rockets had added to their 2014 rise to a 22-6 record, the NBA’s best since New Year’s, a season-best seven-game home winning streak or their 12-2 record since the start of February when the only losses were in the second half of back-to-backs.

Had he thought of it with the pairing of a win against Heat to go with the blowout of the Pacers, he even could have been marking their season-long dominance of the Eastern Conference in Houston, with the Rockets 14-0 against Eastern Conference teams.

In many ways, however, he might have just enjoyed the clearer-than-ever signs of how much the Rockets have progressed in the months in between.

“We’ve been playing well since the beginning of the New Year,” Harden said. “We kind of got a feel for each other now. We’ve gotten better. We’ve gotten healthy.

“When we hold the ball and let them set up defensively, then they’re great. But if we play fast like we did and make plays for each other, it’s hard to beat.”

***

No. 3: Phil Jax rumors blow up in New York — The man had taken sabbaticals before. He roared off on his motorcycle after helping Chicago win its sixth NBA championship in eight years in 1998 and sat out the following season before acquiescing to coach Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant with the Los Angeles Lakers. He stepped away again in 2004-05 to recharge and get healthy, then came back for six more seasons and two more Lakers championships.

But Phil Jackson is going on three years now off the NBA stage and out of the daily sports spotlight, so it’s totally understandable that he might be getting a little restless. That restlessness might or might not – remember, we’re talking both rumors and Jackson weighing multiple options at this point in his life (age 68) – land him in New York, running or coaching the Knicks. Here’s some of what ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne wrote on the topic:

 Phil Jackson is “ready to go back to work,” a source with knowledge of his thinking told ESPN.com on Friday.

The former Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls coach has spent the last couple of years working to improve his health — which included several surgeries and a successful fight against prostate cancer — and writing a book. But the itch to return to the NBA in some capacity is strong.

While Jackson has made it clear to any team that has approached him that he prefers a front-office role that would allow him to shape and mold a franchise the way Miami Heat president Pat Riley has, he is open to the possibility of coaching for a short period of time if it was necessary in a transition period for a franchise with championship aspirations, the source said.

He would not consider any coaching position that did not have a significant guarantee of personnel power as well, sources said.

***

No. 4: Pierce sees Rondo as the next, well, himPaul Pierce, the beloved forward who returned to Boston again Friday in the jarring black-and-white of the Brooklyn Nets, has seen this Celtics movie before. He knows what it must be like for former teammate Rajon Rondo, who is used to better times and has to endure the losing and no longer sees respect or fear in foes’ faces. But Pierce doesn’t worry about the feisty Celtics playmaker because he sees better days ahead, per A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com:

“They’re a young team,” Pierce said. “They got a mix of some veterans, some young guys developing. They’re only going to get better.”

And a significant part of that improvement in Pierce’s eyes, is point guard Rajon Rondo.

Rondo continues to look more and more like the four time All-Star that he is, and not the player on the mend from a torn right ACL injury in January of last year.

On Friday, he had a team-high 20 points to go with nine assists and seven rebounds.

“Rondo is ready to lead,” Pierce said. “He’s leading them right now, moving them into the next generation of Celtics. Their future is going to be very bright.”

But in order to fully appreciate what awaits them at the end of the journey, first they must navigate a path that, for now, will be difficult when it comes to winning games.

Seeing the big picture when he was a young player in Boston wasn’t easy for Pierce who admits Rondo’s better prepared for what lies ahead than he was.

“Rondo understands,” said Pierce, adding “He understands a little more than I did at the time. When I first got here (in Boston), I was in rebuild mode, made the playoffs and went back to rebuild mode. Same with him (Rondo). He came in, we were rebuilding. We went through a phase where we were winning. Now he’s back in rebuild mode, but he’s still young enough to see it out to still be in his prime. I know the Celtics are going to do whatever it takes, to get back to that top level again.”

***

No. 5: Noah bored by whines of “tampering” – So what if it was true that, at some point during All-Star weekend, Chicago center Joakim Noah teased, suggested or even downright pleaded with New York’s Carmelo Anthony to consider signing with the Bulls this summer rather than the Knicks or the Lakers? If that’s “tampering,” the SEC needs to throw a net over the entire NBA for insider trading violations. After the summer of 2010, when Miami’s Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh came together after huddles and strategy sessions great and small … after the Rockets’ Chandler Parsons inundated Dwight Howard with text messages daily leading up to his choice of Houston over the Lakers … the reports that Noah told Anthony he’d be best off by choosing Chicago seem like so much trash-talking or idle banter. Knicks coach Mike Woodson needs to focus on Xs, Os, Ws and Ls, too, more than on some alleged he-said, he-said distraction. Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times addressed some of what seems much ado about nothing:

Noah was asked about the Anthony rumor after the morning shootaround and never denied it, but he chalked it up as nothing more than March gossip.

“What are you talking about, the gossip going on?’’ Noah said.

“You want me to address that? I don’t feel like addressing it. I really have nothing to say.’’

When asked if the story was accurate, Noah said, “Doesn’t matter. What does that have to do with our team now? It doesn’t matter.’’

[Coach Tom] Thibodeau did take exception to Knicks coach Mike Woodson telling a radio station that Noah broke league rules and was tampering.

“You know, legally, nobody can recruit anyone,’’ Woodson said.

“To me, it’s just a bunch of nonsense,’’ Thibodeau said. “We don’t pay any attention to it, just get ready for [the next game]. . . . It’s all nonsense. We’re just concentrating on our next opponent.’’

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Whew! They must be breathing easier in Milwaukee now, knowing that veteran Drew Gooden, on his second 10-day contract with Washington, won’t have vengeance on his mind when the Wizards visit Saturday night for the way the Bucks warehoused him last season (while paying him a whole lot of cash). … If Sam Malone could do it, maybe Paul Pierce could too: Open a bar or restaurant back in Boston when his playing days are over. Pierce was pondering the future Friday night. … Will Saturday’s clash with UNC be Jabari Parker‘s final home game at Cameron Indoor Stadium, or might he return for his sophomore year rather than enter the NBA Draft pool? OK, we’ll play along. … Knicks center Tyson Chandler didn’t really mean to mock Kevin Love‘s defense, Chandler said via Twitter a day later. … Patty Mills listened to Spurs coach Gregg Popovich — wise move, Patty — and grabbed 10 rebounds.

Pacers have lost their identity and way

VIDEO: The Rockets blow through the Pacers

HOUSTON — There were always nights when the shots fell easily and others where it was a struggle. But the vagaries of the offensive performance were rarely much of a concern to the Pacers because they thrived on a defense that was tighter than a bear hug and just as suffocating.

Until now.

After a 112-86 loss to the Rockets — their worst defeat of the season — the Pacers are trying to find that defensive calling card which was their identity and their path to contending for a championship.

With their first three-game losing streak of the season, the Pacers have fallen into a tie in the loss column with Miami in the battle for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

“It’s nothing serious,” said forward Paul George. “We just got to find out who we are, point-blank.

“One, it’s getting back to what the Indiana Pacers used to be. That was a grind-out (team). When teams came to play us, they knew it was gonna be a long night. It’s not getting back to that right now. I think over the last probably 10 games we’ve been giving up probably 100-plus points. We’re usually an 80. Regardless of what we were doing offensively, we were winning games in the 80s. And that’s what we gotta get back to.

“I don’t like losing. This is the first time we lost three in a row and this (bleep’s) gotta change. We got to get better as a team. We got to get back to how we used to play.”

In the 10 games since the All-Star break, the Pacers are 6-4. But what is notable and significant is the slippage in the No. 1 rated defensive in the league. For a team that has surrendered an average of 91.7 points per game on the season, the Pacers have allowed eight of their past 10 opponents to get at least 96. They’ve given up 100 or more three times in that stretch, topped by the Rockets’ explosion on Friday.

“Every team I’ve ever been a part of has had a stretch like we’re in right now,” said coach Frank Vogel. “Since I’ve been here, we’ve always worked our way up. I’m sure we will. It stinks right now. It’s not fun right now. But we’ve got a good team and we’ll regroup.”

To a man, the Pacers seem suddenly lost and confused on the court and in the locker room. Following this blowout loss, George, Roy Hibbert, David West and several other veterans gathered in Vogel’s tiny visiting locker room office and were still trying to figure things out nearly an hour after the game ended.

“Offensively, we haven’t been the most efficient team all year, but we were able to defend the 3-point line and defend the paint and at this point we’re not doing enough of either,” Hibbert said.

“I don’t know. In a game you go back and forth with punches, figuratively, and we’re not responding the right way. We gotta figure that out at both ends because we’re struggling mighty bad. We have to have at least one and right now we don’t have either.”

What the Pacers do have is still a quarter of the regular season schedule to figure it out.

“It would be bad if this was the playoffs right now,” said point guard George Hill. “We still have 20 games to fix it. But the fix has to come immediately.”

Have the Pacers lost their Edge?




VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses Paul George’s slump and the Pacers’ struggles

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The playoff bid is clinched, locked up before anyone else in the league. Yet after five games in seven nights, there is suddenly a lingering fog surrounding the Indiana Pacers.

That brash, bruising, defensive-minded machine we saw before the All-Star break doesn’t look nearly as intimidating these days. That team that vowed to chase the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, in an effort to play host a potential showdown against reigning two-time NBA champion Miami Heat in the conference finals, has been humbled lately with crushing defeats both at home and on the road.

The Pacers’ best players — All-Stars Paul George and Roy Hibbert, as well as Lance Stephenson and David West — have all endured their fair share of struggles. Coach Frank Vogel remains as confident as ever, something you’d expect from a coach who understands that seeing the Pacers reach their ultimate goals is a painstaking process fraught with trials and tribulations. Vogel and his crew know that unmitigated attention to detail is required to overcome any adversity.

Still, it’s enough to make you wonder — have the Pacers lost a little bit of the edge that led them to the top of the standings? They were so good so fast this season that a bit of a letdown was inevitable. But it’s dangerous to play this game this close to the end of the regular season.

“Over the last 20 games or so, we just haven’t had our mojo,” West said after the Bobcats beat the Pacers Wednesday night in Charlotte on the back-end of a back-to-back. “We’ve got to change some things up because these last 20 games is going to be a battle.”

“Right now I think we’re on our downs,” Stephenson said. “We just got to get back on our ups, work together and play as a unit.”

The Pacers also have to return to the identity that led them to the top of the standings.

They were a defensive juggernaut to start the season, holding teams down in every facet and allowing just 90.3 points per game through All-Star weekend. In the nine games since then, they are giving up close to 100 points a night.

“We can’t get teams under control,” West told the Indianapolis Star. “Nobody’s afraid of us and we got to regroup. We got to get back to the basics. We got tough two-game trip out West and it’s got to mean something to us to go out and do whatever we have to do to win these games.”

The road trip he’s speaking starts Friday with a date with the Houston Rockets, who have the league’s best record since Jan. 1. Then comes Sunday’s game in Dallas against the Mavericks. They’ll be tested by two Western Conference playoff teams with the ability to make the Pacers uncomfortable in many different ways.

There is also a seven-games-in-11-days stretch looming at the end of the month, a grind that includes two games against the Chicago Bulls (home and away), road games in Memphis, Washington and Cleveland and showdowns with the Heat (March 26) and San Antonio Spurs  (March 31) that will shed more light on whether or not these Pacers are as ready for prime time as they appeared to be just a month ago.

Changes to their make-up (Evan Turner and, eventually, we assume, Andrew Bynum) will also force the Pacers to continue to tweak their chemistry. They have to be proactive in terms of how they make their own internal adjustments.

But when you build up the sort of reservoir of victories and the quality body of work the Pacers did out of the gate, it’s almost impossible to squander it now. A two-game tailspin can be survived.

If there are cracks in the foundation, though, you better believe the other contenders on both sides of the conference divide have noticed. And they’ll be sure to do whatever they can to exploit that in the future.


VIDEO: The Bobcats thumped the Pacers and shut down Paul George and Roy Hibbert in the process