Posts Tagged ‘Indiana Pacers’

Hibbert, Hill stymie Pacers’ revival

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

George Hill and Roy Hibbert have struggled with production since the All-Star break. (Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images)

George Hill and Roy Hibbert have struggled to find their way of late. (Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images)

There is a particular reason why the Chicago Bulls have mourned the absence of All-Star point guard Derrick Rose and, in healthier times, felt confident about their chances against the two-time defending champion Miami Heat:

Center and point guard. The two positions where Miami has seemed most vulnerable through its three-Finals, two-titles reign over the NBA. And the two positions where the Bulls, with Rose and Joakim Noah (even before Noah’s blossoming in 2013-14), held distinct match-up advantages.

And then there are the Indiana Pacers, where center Roy Hibbert and point guard George Hill have embodied and driven – in an especially vicious circle these days – their team’s struggle against the Heat specifically and in the season’s stretch drive generally.

Hibbert is the one taking most of the grief, an obvious lightning rod given his stature literally and in Indiana’s preferred scheme of things. He’s a 7-foot-2 center who has come up about 4-foot-11 of late, shrinking at the task of nailing down the East’s top playoff berth.

Over the past 10 games, Hibbert has averaged 9.0 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks while shooting 32.9 percent, all south of his expected numbers. His decline since the All-Star break is nothing short of alarming – from offensive and defensive ratings of 104 and 95 through his first 52 games, to 91 and 106 over the past 27.

And the past week went by almost without so much as a ping from the Pacers’ missing aircraft carrier: A nightmarish nine minutes, scoreless and without rebounds in a blowout loss to Atlanta. A game in street clothes in Milwaukee as part of coach Frank Vogel‘s rattle-whatever-cage-remains decision to sit out his starters. And just five points and one rebound in nearly 34 minutes in the smackdown in Miami, with the Heat taking apparent glee in finally solving their Hibbert headaches.

Hill, the team’s unassertive point guard – and one of the NBA’s few where “playmaker” can be subbed in as a synonym to mix up the phrasings – has been just as disappointing in the Pacers’ desperation to stop their swoon. Averages of 8.3 points and 3.4 assists, while hitting 42.4 percent of his field-goal attempts and 69.2 percent of his free throws.

He, too, has stepped into an open elevator shaft post-All Star break in some of the advanced metrics: true-shooting percentage down from 57.9 to 53.3, and a combo drop in offensive and defensive ratings from 117/98 to 110/112. If those were blood pressure numbers, the Pacers’ title hopes already would be dead.

All of this is a way of pointing out how challenging the Pacers’ matinee game against Oklahoma City (1 p.m. ET, ABC) figures to be Sunday. The gap between NBA Most Valuable Player favorite Kevin Durant and Indiana’s Paul George, a likely fourth- or fifth-place finisher, already is vast enough. But for Hill, matched up with the Thunder’s angry young man at the point, Russell Westbrook, it will be all he can do to hang on defensively, offense – no matter how badly Indiana needs a fix there – be danged.

For Hibbert, facing low-center-of-gravity Kendrick Perkins, relentlessly active Serge Ibaka and fundamentally sound Nick Collison is no way to get his game healthy. Last Sunday against the Hawks, Hibbert made Pero Antic look like Dave Cowens in his prime and had Pacers peeps excusing the (ahem) tough match-up. At Miami Friday, it was old reliable Udonis Haslem staying low, beating Hibbert to his spots and pushing him around to exploit that flamingo-like base the Pacers center seems to set.

Hill, George and the other Indiana players aren’t absolved when Hibbert struggles, either, given their lackadaisical entry passes and tendency seemingly to look away from the big man rather than establish him in the paint. Maybe they’ve grown tired of his soft left-handed hook shots and mid-range jumpers that rattle out, when what they crave is a nasty, rim-attacker who utilizes his greatest asset.

All in all, with the East’s No. 1 seed still remarkably in play, what might have teased at a potential Finals showdown – OKC vs. IND – looks more like a contender facing a calamity.

Morning Shootaround — April 10


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Vogel’s gamble pays off | Casey unhappy with Raptors’ defense | Brown: Sixers need a ‘star’ in Draft | Cavs look ahead to next season

No. 1: Vogel’s gamble plays off for Pacers — The NBA world was abuzz yesterday afternoon after word came that Pacers coach Frank Vogel was benching his entire starting five of Paul George, Lance Stephenson, George Hill, David West and Roy Hibbert to give them some rest against the Bucks. Milwaukee gave Indiana quite a fight, but thanks to a late shot from little-used reserve Chris Copeland, the Pacers took home the win. That, coupled with Miami’s loss in Memphis last night, gave Indiana the No. 1 spot in the East again and may have proven Vogel’s move to be worthwhile. Our Steve Aschburner was on the scene in Indiana and has more on the game:

This was a risky move, risky on the verge of panic, for coach Frank Vogel to sit down – to rest, en masse – the five guys who have defined the Pacers’ largely successful season. But there they sat: Paul George, David West, Roy Hibbert, Lance Stephenson and George Hill, from beginning to end, mere spectators and cheerleaders Wednesday night at BMO Harris Bradley Center.After multiple consultations between Vogel and the players, among Vogel and President Larry Bird and the coaches — and a heads-up courtesy call to NBA headquarters in hopes of avoiding any fines — the Indiana coach shortened his bench by whacking his starters. He did, from the rationale he gave, what he should have done in February or March, if only the alleged wear, tear and fatigue from season’s first five months had shown itself before the sixth.

“We accomplished the purpose,” said George, who spent the game in warm-ups after getting in some conditioning and shooting. “We felt very comfortable with the group we had, that they were going to go out there and get us a win. It wasn’t like we were sacrificing the game. We game-planned. Coach really drilled and worked hard with the unit he put out there.”

Copeland missed just one of his eight shots, scored 18 and was good for four of the Pacers’ 11 3-pointers. Backup point guard C.J. Watson returned after missing 13 games, and his impact shouldn’t be understated; Indiana is 47-14 when he plays, 7-11 when he doesn’t. The Pacers outshot the Bucks and had 26 assists to 11 turnovers.

“Served the purpose,” said Vogel. “We got the starters the rest that hopefully will help them find their rhythm, and we let our bench guys get extended minutes so they could get comfortable. Evan Turner hasn’t been that comfortable in a Pacers uniform.”

How badly have the starters needed a breather? The math says very: the five Pacers have averaged 2,521 minutes, which might not seem excessive (32.8 per game). But compared to the deftly managed San Antonio Spurs, the difference is considerable. The five Spurs who have played the most have averaged 1,934 minutes. That gap of 587, doled out 30 minutes at a time, is nearly 20 extra games’ worth.

“It was a weird feeling, sitting out a game,” Hibbert said. “But I was really happy for those guys. They’ve been working extremely hard the whole season. To see them go out and play, and not have to worry about making mistakes and having the starters come back in, I was really happy for ‘em.”

Hibbert said getting the game off was both a physical and mental health day, and none of them seemed to need it more. The big fella hit some sort of wall Sunday against Atlanta, playing just nine minutes, going scoreless with no rebounds, then languishing on the bench through the second half in some sort of bad body-language funk. He was way more engaged in this one, encouraging the reserves, snarling toward the crowd a few times.

When Indiana visits the Heat on Friday, its starters will have gone five days – more than 120 hours – between games.

“We probably haven’t had that since the season started,” Stephenson said. “Any rest can help us right now.”


VIDEO: Pacers score a close win in Milwaukee

***

No. 2: Casey fretting over Raptors’ defense — No team has been more of a surprise in the Eastern Conference this season than the Atlantic Division-leading Toronto Raptors. The team is just one win away from both clinching the franchise’s second-ever division crown and also tying the record for wins in a season. Despite all the good feelings of the season, though, coach Dwane Casey is a bit concerned about Toronto’s defense as it barrels toward the playoffs. Doug Smith of the Toronto Star has more:

They are a game away from matching two historic moments in franchise history; a win away from a division title, a victory away from equalling the win total of the best Raptors team ever — and the anticipation is building all around them.

But having watched his team scuffle through another bad defensive night against a vastly inferior opponent, coach Dwane Casey is more worried than celebratory.

“My whole goal now is to get better defensively going into the next couple of weeks because if we don’t, it’s going to be a short ride,” Casey said after the Raptors beat the Philadelphia 76ers 125-114 at the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday, Toronto’s second straight stinky defensive performance.

“Collectively, our defence has to step up. We can’t expect to outscore people 125-114 and have a game like that,” he said.

“It’s a mindset. You can’t look at their records, whoever we play. New York (Toronto’s next opponent) will be a little different but the other teams (minnows Detroit and Milwaukee also remain on the Raptors schedule) that are not in the playoffs, we can’t look at that. We have to play our game and look to improve.”


VIDEO: Raptors coach Dwane Casey discusses the team’s win over the Sixers

***

No. 3: Brown: Sixers need a ‘star’ in the Draft — As a former longtime assistant coach of the San Antonio Spurs, Philadelphia 76ers first-year coach Brett Brown knows how drafting a go-to superstar can shape a franchise. He saw what Tim Duncan has done for the Spurs over the years and now that he’s leading his own crew, Brown knows that Philly needs a star in the 2014 Draft if it hopes to keep its rebuild project moving along quickly and smoothly. He talked with Tom Moore of the Bucks County Courier-Times about that, Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel and more:

“I think it’s important,” Brown said during a 10-minute interview after Tuesday’s practice. “I think it’s really important.

“Stars want to play with stars. And it’s too early to say anything about Michael (Carter-Williams) or what you can project Nerlens (Noel) out to be. Just because somebody’s chosen high in the draft doesn’t mean they’re going to be a star, either.”

The Sixers, who are likely to finish with the second-worst record, would have a 19.9 percent shot at the No. 1 overall pick and a 55.8 percent chance to choose in the top three. They also own five second-round selections.

One potential top-three pick, talented Duke freshman forward Jabari Parker, who said he might come back to school after an early NCAA tournament exit, has arranged housing for his sophomore year, according to a Duke source. While that doesn’t mean he’ll stay, it shows he’s seriously considering remaining a Blue Devil for another season.

Brown is eager to see rookie center Noel, who sat out the year as he recovered from a torn ACL, play one of the Sixers’ two summer leagues. Noel and Carter-Williams won an AAU national title as members of the Boston Amateur Basketball Club (BABC).

The Sixers acquired Noel with the No. 6 pick in last June’s draft from the Holiday deal and Carter-Williams went No. 11.

“They have had such a great history together in their Boston AAU days,” said Brown, a Maine native. “I can see how they have a bond, a connection, a relationship. Those things are priceless.

“I think it’s ‘hoop karma.’ To get two young players that are used to playing with each other at such a young age as our first-round draft picks last year and my own experiences in Boston — maybe something’s aligned where we can pull off something special together.”

Brown is adamant that Carter-Williams, who leads all first-year players in scoring (16.7 points), assists (6.3), rebounds (6.1) and steals (1.9), should become the Sixers’ first NBA Rookie of the Year since Allen Iverson in 1996-97.

“Absolutely zero (doubt in my mind),” Brown said. “And forget my opinion — look at his game and look at the stats. You can easily say — some people will — it’s because he played on a poor team or he played with the fastest (offensive) pace in the league or he got 34 minutes a night to do his thing. Those are true facts.

“But when you go a layer deeper and you say look at his game. Look at what he actually does. Project him out.”

***

No. 4: Cavs try to look forward to next season — The Cleveland Cavaliers tried to make a big splash in the offseason, signing center Andrew Bynum, guard Jarrett Jack and swingman Earl Clark months after drafting Anthony Bennett with the No. 1 overall pick. The thinking was adding those pieces to a core that included All-Star Kyrie Irving and budding frontcourt player Tristan Thompson would equal a playoff berth. The exact opposite happened as Cleveland sputtered out of the gate, dealt with Bynum drama mid-season, fired its GM and, in short, failed to live up to every expectation. The Cavs’ playoff hopes officially ended last night and as Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal writes, being home for the playoffs stings a little more this time for the Cavs:

It seemed almost poetic in this season of uncertainty that one of the Cavs’ finest performances would be tarnished by their ultimate demise.The offensive efficiency was brilliant Wednesday, the ball movement was electric and the outcome was emphatic. Only none of it matters anymore, since the Cavs’ 122-100 victory against the Detroit Pistons was washed away 36 minutes later by the Atlanta Hawks’ victory over the Boston Celtics, thereby officially eliminating the Cavs from postseason contention with exactly one week left in the season.

“It’s an empty feeling you have now that your chances are done,” Kyrie Irving said. “You think about the things you could’ve done, should’ve done — it’s inevitable.”

“That type of basketball, the stuff we saw out there tonight, that’s the way we want to play most of the time,” Mike Brown said. “We’ve played that way quite a bit. We’ve taken our lumps at times, but our guys have gotten better and it shows.”

Only it all came too late to save their postseason lives.

The Cavs will be haunted this summer by their 4-12 November that included losses to the woeful Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers. They lost twice to the Boston Celtics and were embarrassed at home by the injury-ravaged Los Angeles Lakers.

Those are the types of losses that ultimately will deny the Cavs their first trip to the postseason in four years.

“One of the things that eats at me is the first couple of months, the transition we went through just not being able to win a few more games,” Brown said. “It’s tough and you have to play almost perfect basketball. It puts a lot of pressure on you as the year goes on. You wish you had some of those games back so we could experience playing past April.”

The Cavs were mathematically eliminated from the postseason before March concluded last season, and while a huge assist for their extension this season is the woeful Eastern Conference, the fact remains the Cavs played meaningful games in April and remained in the hunt until exactly one week remained.

That is progress from a team that won only 24 games last season …

“I feel good about the direction we’re going,” Brown said. “We have to keep understanding that every time we step out we have to grow and get better. … There will be times we’re going to take some steps backwards, but hopefully we don’t take too many steps backward these last few weeks of the season.”


VIDEO: Kyrie Irving talks about the win and missing out on the playoffs

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Bulls are reportedly close to signing former reserves Mike James and Lou Amundson to deals … Pau Gasol confirms it is unlikely he’ll play again for the Lakers this season … NBA commissioner Adam Silver sees ads on jerseys as both a “viable” source of revenue and an “inevitable” thing … The Bobcats’ Michael Kidd-Gilchrist talks about his ex-high school teammate Derrick Gordon, the UMass basketball player who recently came out as gay … Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman knew that Bulls center Joakim Noah was primed for a big game last night … Aaron Brooks has enjoyed his time in Denver and wouldn’t mind re-signing with the team

ICYMI of the Night: The Bulls’ Taj Gibson is one of the better finishers around the rim in the NBA, but Ronny Turiaf of the Wolves was having none of that last night … 


VIDEO: Ronny Turiaf gets up to deny Taj Gibson’s dunk … and his follow-up attempts

 

 

Panic button pays off for Pacers

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Copeland’s last-gasp shot lifts Pacers over Bucks

MILWAUKEE – By the end of the night, the players and coaches of the Indiana Pacers could look you in the eye, smile ever so slightly and shrug, “What?”

As if it was the most natural thing in the world to play an NBA game that still mattered – the top seed in the Eastern Conference bracket still TBD – with all five starters healthy but banished to the bench.

But nobody was fooling anybody. This was a risky move, risky on the verge of panic, for coach Frank Vogel to sit down – to rest, en masse – the five guys who have defined the Pacers’ largely successful season. But there they sat: Paul George, David West, Roy Hibbert, Lance Stephenson and George Hill, from beginning to end, mere spectators and cheerleaders Wednesday night at BMO Harris Bradley Center.

After multiple consultations between Vogel and the players, among Vogel and President Larry Bird and the coaches — and a heads-up courtesy call to NBA headquarters in hopes of avoiding any fines — the Indiana coach shortened his bench by whacking his starters. He did, from the rationale he gave, what he should have done in February or March, if only the alleged wear, tear and fatigue from season’s first five months had shown itself before the sixth.

If you asked Vogel in February or March about his starters’ workload, the answer was the same: None of the Pacers was averaging more than a tick beyond 30 minutes a game. They were healthy, young and they could handle it.

Until, that is, they couldn’t. It took five losses in their six most recent games, eight in their last 11, a 20-18 record since Jan. 20 and a 23-point first half against Atlanta on Sunday to push Vogel to the unusual and non-guaranteed homeopathic remedy of enforcing a day off.

That loss at home to the Hawks had been “disturbing,” Vogel said 90 minutes before tipoff Wednesday against the bottom-feeding Bucks. What he was doing was a “dramatic move,” primarily to give the starters a breather but also to rattle the backups’ cage a little.

It could have backfired massively, losing to the team with the league’s worst record, “sacrificing” a winnable game while ceding even more ground to the Miami Heat in the East. But it did not.

By the end of the night, after Chris Copeland‘s drive to the rim with 1.2 seconds left won it, 104-102, after everyone in the Indiana dressing room exhaled and after the Memphis Grizzlies put down Miami 107-102, the Pacers could pinch themselves over this:

1. Indiana, 54-25, .684
2. Miami, 53-25, .679

They were headed to south Florida next, a 2-1 lead in the series already, with a chance Friday (7:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV) to pretty much seal the deal. After so much gnashing of teeth over their tumble – in the standings, yes, but also in confidence, trust and other team qualities – the Pacers were able to act like they knew this outcome was coming all along.


VIDEO: The Pacers discuss their thrilling win in Milwaukee

“We accomplished the purpose,” said George, who spent the game in warm-ups after getting in some conditioning and shooting. “We felt very comfortable with the group we had, that they were going to go out there and get us a win. It wasn’t like we were sacrificing the game. We game-planned. Coach really drilled and worked hard with the unit he put out there.”

The Pacers’ All-Subs put up good numbers against a Milwaukee team down to eight players itself through injuries and the start of Larry Sanders‘ five-game suspension (drug-policy violation). Luis Scola scored a season-high 24 points with nine rebounds, flourishing like he seldom has off Indiana’s bench this season. Same thing with Evan Turner, the trade-deadline acquisition who had to be feeling Philadelphia after logging more than 41 minutes, jacking 18 shots and finishing with 23 points, nine assists and seven boards.

Copeland missed just one of his eight shots, scored 18 and was good for four of the Pacers’ 11 3-pointers. Backup point guard C.J. Watson returned after missing 13 games, and his impact shouldn’t be understated; Indiana is 47-14 when he plays, 7-11 when he doesn’t. The Pacers outshot the Bucks and had 26 assists to 11 turnovers.

“Served the purpose,” said Vogel. “We got the starters the rest that hopefully will help them find their rhythm, and we let our bench guys get extended minutes so they could get comfortable. Evan Turner hasn’t been that comfortable in a Pacers uniform.”

How badly have the starters needed a breather? The math says very: the five Pacers have averaged 2,521 minutes, which might not seem excessive (32.8 per game). But compared to the deftly managed San Antonio Spurs, the difference is considerable. The five Spurs who have played the most have averaged 1,934 minutes. That gap of 587, doled out 30 minutes at a time, is nearly 20 extra games’ worth.

It just could be that the Pacers are more ground down because their key guys haven’t had significant injuries.

“I don’t know if I’ve seen any guys ailing,” Copeland said, “but I know they needed a rest, because it’s a grueling season. A lot of ‘em are playing through a lot of things. You look at David West, he’s playing with Rocky’s glove, y’know? That shows the type of guys we’ve got. Nobody’s complaining about playing with injuries, but trust me – all five who sat out have something going on.”

Hibbert, in a robin’s egg blue sport coat and tan slacks, was officially listed as inactive because someone had to be. The other four watched in game gear but budged only to root, clap and mill around on the fringe of timeout huddles.

“It was a weird feeling, sitting out a game,” Hibbert said. “But I was really happy for those guys. They’ve been working extremely hard the whole season. To see them go out and play, and not have to worry about making mistakes and having the starters come back in, I was really happy for ‘em.”

Hibbert said getting the game off was both a physical and mental health day, and none of them seemed to need it more. The big fella hit some sort of wall Sunday against Atlanta, playing just nine minutes, going scoreless with no rebounds, then languishing on the bench through the second half in some sort of bad body-language funk. He was way more engaged in this one, encouraging the reserves, snarling toward the crowd a few times.

When Indiana visits the Heat on Friday, its starters will have gone five days – more than 120 hours – between games.

“We probably haven’t had that since the season started,” Stephenson said. “Any rest can help us right now.”

Nothing’s guaranteed now, either, except a big dose of irony: The Pacers’ staked out that No. 1 seed as a goal back in training camp so they wouldn’t have to win a big game in Miami come springtime. Now, in order to actually claim it, they have to win a big game in Miami come springtime.

Blogtable: Finding a new playoff gear

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: All-NBA center | Coaches in danger | Playoff team needs new gear



VIDEO: Bobcats big man Al Jefferson talks about Charlotte’s hopes for a long playoff run

Which playoff-bound teams (give me two or three) will play up to another level in the grind of the playoffs? Who will have trouble playing as well as they are now?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I start with the second question (ever notice how most respondents do?): Phoenix and Washington could suffer most from the just-happy-to-be-there approach, the Suns overachieving their way in (if they get in) and Washington desperate to qualify but with no real postseason experience. Atlanta figures to be a quick out but then, the Hawks haven’t played all that well anyway. Shifting into a better gear? Charlotte’s defense is suited to the playoffs and, if the Bobcats face the sideways Pacers, that could get interesting. Chicago always is a team to avoid, but that’s just the way the Bulls grind all the time, not due to any next level. I’d add Golden State, because their coach will feel urgency and the Warriors’ offense can get so dangerously hot.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The Spurs, Thunder, Heat, Bulls, Clippers will rise. The Pacers, Raptors, Nets, Blazers will drop. Why? It’s pretty self-explanatory. The first five teams look like legit contenders while the latter four are not ready for the grind of the playoffs for one reason or another. In particular, the Pacers look like they’re ready to crater.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com:Oklahoma City has fought through Russell Westbrook‘s situation and injuries to two starters in the final quarter of the season, plus acclimating Caron Butler, so put the Thunder at the top of the list for teams that will play up. It seems weird to put Miami in this category, but the Heat have been coasting. They know what’s at stake starting April 19. Also give me Brooklyn’s vets. On the other side, I expect Dallas, if it gets in, will have trouble reaching another level. And, Toronto, with relatively little playoff experience, could be in for an early disappointment — especially with potential first-round foe Washington expecting Nene‘s return.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Heat will play up to another level. They can read a calendar as well as anyone. All that talk about the fatigue from carrying the trophy overhead for so many years? Ignore it. This will be the playoff Heat. Maybe someone beats Miami, but the Heat aren’t handing anything over. And the Thunder will play up to another level. Westbrook will be playing big minutes and won’t have to worry about back-to-backs, Kendrick Perkins should have his minutes up and Thabo Sefolosha will have been back about a week and a half and in a good rhythm.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’ll always look at defense to answer a question like this. The Warriors have gone through some controversy and have seemingly been treading water around the No. 6 seed for a while, but they’ve been the best defensive team in the Western Conference, with top-flight defenders on the perimeter (Andre Iguodala) and the interior (Andrew Bogut). That’s a formula for playoff success. For the same reasons, Chicago and Charlotte will be tough outs. Oklahoma City has had some defensive issues of late and could be in trouble if they match up with Phoenix, because no team has been more efficient against the Thunder this season.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Brooklyn Nets look like one of those teams you don’t want to tussle with in the playoffs. The same goes for the Portland Trail Blazers and Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference. All three have endured their fair share of troubles at some point this season and yet all three seem to have another gear they can get to in the postseason. I love what the Toronto Raptors are doing right now but I wonder if they’re ready for what coach Dwane Casey knows awaits them in the playoffs. They have put together a fantastic season that should be highlighted by an Atlantic Division crown. What comes after that, however, is the problem. A potential first-round matchup against either Washington or Charlotte could be a rough ride.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: Waaaay back in October I was high on the Clippers and the Nets. And while Rick Fox and Sekou Smith may have made fun of me on the Hang Time Podcast for going all in on those teams, I’ve always felt that these were teams that would improve as the season went along, and I think they both have done exactly that. In the postseason, Chris Paul has always turned things up a notch, and now he has the players around him to be as dangerous as he’s ever been. And we’ve all seen how Brooklyn can handle Miami, so I think they’re in as good a place as they could be.

Morning Shootaround — April 9


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pacers to rest starters down stretch | Nowitzki now a top 10 all-time scorer | Nash’s hits milestone, but will he play again? | Kupchack won’t consult Kobe on D’Antoni | Noel says knee is ’100 percent’ healthy

No. 1: Pacers to rest starters down stretch — In Sunday’s eventual blowout loss at home to the Atlanta Hawks, Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel decided to bench/rest All-Star center Roy Hibbert in the second half to give him rest. Could more of the same be in store for Indiana’s other starters as the season winds down? It seems so, writes Zak Keefer of The Indianapolis Star, who reports that Vogel is more interested in the Pacers playing well than he is in their chase with the Miami Heat for the East’s No. 1 seed:

In an unusual turn of events, Pacers coach Frank Vogel gave his starting unit their second consecutive day off Tuesday, and said after practice he will continue resting some of them during the team’s final four regular season games.

“I think rest and healing up is part of the solution,” Vogel said. “It’s not the whole solution, but it’s part of it.”

The only Pacers’ starter at practice was recently-benched Roy Hibbert, who watched in street clothes from the sideline. He did not speak to the media following practice.

Vogel, long a proponent of the team’s stated goal – to earn the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed and gain home court advantage throughout the conference playoffs – sounded more like a coach focused on healing his roster in the final week of the regular season than finishing with a better record than the Miami Heat.

He was asked if his team has ceded the No. 1 seed to Miami, which leads the Pacers by a full game heading into Indiana’s date in Milwaukee on Wednesday.

“No,” Vogel said. “We’re two games back right now. Obviously it was a goal, it is a goal of ours, but at this point, playing well is our top priority. Part of that is being fresh going into the playoffs.

“We feel good if we have the No. 2 seed, and we still feel we can attain the goals we have.”

Vogel added that he will rest some of his starters over the regular season’s final stretch, and did not commit to starting Hibbert (or any of them) on Wednesday.

More than one starter – including Paul George and David West – came to him recently and asked for some additional rest down the stretch.

“A couple of them said they think that would help,” Vogel said. “They said it in a very positive way. (Our) group came in very encouraged after the other night.”

***

No. 2: Nowitzki passes ‘Big O’ for No. 10 on all-time scoring list — Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki has been toiling as a top-flight scorer in the NBA for the last 14 or so seasons. With each game — and each solid scoring performance — he’s climbed the all-time scoring charts and, last night, reached another milestone in his future Hall of Fame career. He’s now the 10th-leading scorer in NBA history after passing Oscar “Big O” Robertson last night with a free-throw line extended jump shot. Our Jeff Caplan details Dirk’s magical moment:

Dirk Nowitzki, with a patented fallaway jumper from a few feet off the right elbow, surpassed Oscar Robertson as the NBA’s 10th-all-time leading scorer.Nowitzki, 35, joins the most exclusive of NBA clubs in which each member is recognized simply by first name or nickname. Dirk, the Dallas Mavericks’ sweet-shooting 7-footer and an original stretch-4, certainly has that covered.

“Amazing, amazing. I mean top 10 is unreal,” Nowitzki said following the 95-83 victory at Utah. “It’s been a crazy ride. Passing Big O, who obviously averaged triple-doubles numerous seasons, is unbelievable. It feels surreal still. All night I wasn’t really trying to think about it, I was trying to concentrate on the next shot. I knew how many points I needed, but I wasn’t really trying to think about it. I was trying to think about the next shot and how I could get open.”

Nowitzki, the 2007 regular-season MVP and 2011 champion and Finals MVP, now has 26,714 career points. He has also surpassed 30,000 total points that includes 128 postseason games.

Fresh off being named the Western Conference’s Player of the Week, a four-game stretch in which he averaged 25.3 ppg, Nowitzki has propelled Dallas to a 4-0 road trip that has it in the driver’s seat to secure one of the final two playoff spots.

The Mavs (48-21) have three games left. They play San Antonio at home on Thursday and then finish with critical games against Phoenix at home on Saturday and then at Memphis on Wednesday.

Nowitzki, who struggled to regain his All-Star form last season after undergoing knee surgery during training camp, was devastated when the Mavs missed the playoffs for the first time since 1999-2000.

He started this season, his 16th, at No. 17 on the league’s all-time scoring list. Along the way he’s moved ahead of Jerry West, Reggie Miller, Alex English, Kevin Garnett, John Havlicek, Dominique Wilkins and now the Big O.

Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant, No. 4 on the all-time list with 31,700 points, 592 behind No. 3 Michael Jordan are the only active players in the top 10.

This is Nowitzki’s final year of his contract, but he has made it clear that he plans to re-sign with the Mavericks for another two or three seasons.

“This is my 30th year in the NBA and one of the few times I’ve truly been in awe of an accomplishment,” said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, who has been with Nowitzki since the start of the 2008-09 season. “Top 10 all-time scorer is an unbelievable accomplishment because it’s a level of excellence that’s beyond belief, and then it’s being able to do it over an extended period of time with consistency. So one of the really unique accomplishments.

“And he’s going to keep eating up more people. He’s got a long way to go.”


VIDEO: Dirk Nowitzki runs wild against the Jazz in Salt Lake City

***

No. 3: Nash has milestone moment, but is career nearing end? — With a nice little dish to streaking teammate Jodie Meeks off a Houston Rockets turnover last night, Steve Nash passed Mark Jackson for No. 3 on the NBA’s all-time assists list. That dime further bolstered Nash’s already rock-solid Hall of Fame career and provided a bright spot in what has been a disappointing rebuild of a season in Lakerland. However, as ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin points out: could this game be not only Nash’s last one this season, but of his career?

With his fifth assist of the night coming on a lead pass to Jodie Meeks for a fast-break dunk with 2:13 remaining in the second quarter, Nash moved past Mark Jackson for No. 3 on the all-time assists list, giving him 10,335 for his career.

Nash was subbed out of the game a minute later, and the 18-year veteran received a standing ovation from the Staples Center crowd as public address announcer Lawrence Tanter acknowledged the achievement.

It could very well be the last time the former two-time MVP is on the court this season — or perhaps in his career.

Nash finished with three points, five assists and three rebounds in 13 minutes in the Lakers’ 145-130 loss to the Rockets and did not play in the second half after suffering what he described as a “bite” in his hamstring when he tried to “open up and sprint” early in the game.

“Since I had a pretty good setback today, I probably won’t play again [this season],” Nash said after the game. “But if I get a good recovery over the next week, I’d love to play again. But again, a big goal for me was to not go into the summer injured, and the fact that I had a setback today is kind of frustrating. But hopefully it’s something that I can work through quickly here, and if I work through quick enough, I’d love to play again. But it’s probably doubtful.”

Nash was playing in just his 15th game of the season after being sidelined for extensive periods because of nerve root irritation in his back and hamstrings. He has one year remaining on his contract with the Lakers, set to pay him $9.7 million, but Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni expressed doubt regarding Nash’s chances of returning for a 19th season.

“It’s too bad everything comes to an end, and he’s had a great career,” D’Antoni said after the game, adding several times he felt “lucky” to have coached the eight-time All-Star in both Phoenix and L.A.

“It was great he got that tonight. You hate that he has to do it on one leg. He was literally playing on one leg tonight,” D’Antoni added.

D’Antoni would not definitively draw the curtain on Nash’s career, however.

“I don’t think anybody, they can’t tell that,” D’Antoni said. “He’ll try, I’m sure. A lot of it’s mentally, whether he can do it mentally, because it’s going to take a lot, a lot of work and some luck and then the franchise and the management and Steve will sit down and they’ll make that determination.”

When asked whether Nash displayed any emotion in the locker room as if it were his last game, D’Antoni said, “I don’t think he’s there yet at all.”

After accomplishing the mark, Nash reflected on his journey through the sport of basketball.

“All of this is beyond my imagination and wildest dreams,” Nash said. “So to be able to share that end of the assist ladder with some players that I looked up to and emulated, and to be in their company, is phenomenal. I don’t play for the records. I play because I love to play, I love to play and be a part of a team. But I guess it’s something that maybe one day I’ll appreciate, all hours I spent, all the extra hours I spent trying to get better.”

Nash was almost unable to play long enough to set the record Tuesday.

“He came to me during a timeout and said he tweaked it and his hamstring’s on fire,” D’Antoni said. “And then I go, ‘Well, you want out?’ And he goes, ‘If I come out, I might never go back in.’ So, I go, ‘Well, OK, so it’s either the record or we’ll carry you off the floor.’ And that’s kind of the way it went.”


VIDEO: The Inside the NBA crew discusses Steve Nash’s accomplishment last night

***

No. 4: Kupchak won’t consult with Kobe on D’Antoni’s future — The recent state of the Lakers in the Western Conference hierarchy has given their fans reason to question the front office at times. But those in power in Lakerland are apparently happy with the job that GM Mitch Kupchack has done over the years and agreed to a multi-year extension with him yesterday. As Kupchack and the rest of the Lakers’ brass attempt to lead L.A. out of this rare dark period, many decisions must be made. One of those revolves around what to do with coach Mike D’Antoni, who may or may not have star Kobe Bryant‘s full support. Kupchack, however, told USA Today‘s Sam Amick that Kobe’s view on D’Antoni won’t shape what the Lakers choose to do with the coach:

On the night that news of his multiyear extension was first reported by ESPN, Kupchak sat down for an extensive interview with USA TODAY Sports to discuss the storied franchise and its uncertain future.He may not be different, but he fully expects the current climate to change over time. Yet as he knows as much as anyone, it’s just a matter of how long it might take.

Q: Your fans are going through culture shock right now. They’ve had a good run, but this generation hasn’t seen a season like this.

A: Well, I don’t know how you define ‘generation.’ I guess you could say that, but 10 years ago we had a year like this. But we haven’t had a year like this in the last six or seven years, that’s for sure. But we’ve had a bunch of years like this since I’ve been here. I’ve been here since ’81, and there were three or four years in the early ’90s, and then we had that year in ’04. But we haven’t had a year like this in eight or nine years, that’s true.

Q: So that being said, Mitch, what’s your outlook? Is it a situation where you have that experience from the past and you’ll apply it here and move forward with confidence that this too shall pass, or where is your head at?

A: I’m confident that over time, that we’re going to be able to assemble a team that’s competitive, fun to watch. The advantages that this franchise and this city have always had remain, which is our fan base, it’s a great city, players like playing here, there are a lot of diverse components of this city that attract players. The organization itself, its legacy. So those things don’t change. Now the collective bargaining agreement changed considerably (after the 2011 lockout) the playing field. That’s just the way the owners wanted it, and as a manager all we’ve ever said is just give us the rules and we’ll play with the rules. But for example, when we signed Shaquille O’Neal (in 1996), Orlando made an offer and we topped it, and then Orlando topped it, and then we traded two players and got more cap room and then we topped it. They could have topped our offer and they chose not to.

So it could have kept going back and forth because there was no max salary, and there was no home-team advantage — 7½ percent (annual) raises versus four (percent), a five-year deal versus a four-year deal, those rules didn’t exist (the current CBA gives the incumbent team this edge). So the playing field is considerably different. But having said all that, our advantages remain the same. And considering where a lot of teams have ended up in this kind of position, we have a lot of flexibility going forward. We don’t have a lot of players that are good players but not great players who are on long-term deals. Those kinds of contracts can sometimes bury an organization for four or five years. Going forward it’s pretty clean, so it’s up to us to use that money wisely. We are going to have a good (draft) pick this year, so those are the advantages that we have. The short answer is that yes, I’m hoping to be very competitive in a year or two, but the key really is over time.

Q: So on my short list of things to get clarity on is the dynamic between management and Kobe. You guys give him the extension, and I think the question a lot of people have now is that — because of what he has done for the organization, because of what you think he can do in the next couple of years — you do the extension but maybe Kobe doesn’t still have the same voice that he had in the past and now it’s time for the bosses to be the bosses. He’s the one pressing the agenda, saying he’s not going to wait and be patient (during a rebuild).

A: Not really.

Q: You don’t think so?

A: He had that one outburst, but I think he got caught up in all the sensation of the moment — is Phil going to stay or is he going to go? He wants the same thing we want, which is to win as much as possible as soon as possible. I meet with him. (It’s) not on a regular basis, but in the last two or three months we have met several times, and he gets it.

Q: Is that the norm or is that more than normal?

A: Well, it’s more than normal because he’s more available. He’s hurt. I see him in the locker room, we talk. So that’s all that was. That’s all it was.

Q: Will he factor in on the decision about Mike?

A: We will not consult with him. No, we won’t consult with him.

Q: Because when he was asked about Mike last week, the perception was that he didn’t go to bat for him publicly. That started the storyline of “Well, Mike’s not coming back because it doesn’t seem like Kobe wants him back.”

A: We won’t consult with him. Our decisions going forward — we’re not going to do knee-jerk stuff. We’ll let the season end, and take some time. We’ve got a lot of injuries and surgeries to sort through. That’s a lot to accomplish. We have the draft coming up?

Q: Do you have clarity on that (D’Antoni) decision yet?

A: No. No. In fact, I told Jimmy [Buss] let’s get to the end season, take some time off…then review the season. Look at our roster. I mean we have a plan. We’ve aligned our contracts in such a way where we’re at a position where we’re not financially stuck. But there’s a lot we don’t know. We don’t know where we’re going to get our pick. Are we going to be sixth, are we going to be eighth, are we going to be two or three? We don’t know. We know who may be a free agent, but we don’t know for sure until June 30.

So we know a lot, and we’re set up to take advantage of the situations — whether it’s to make a trade, take back a player, get a good draft choice, pursue free agency. But once again, it’s a different world than it was 20 years ago. And as much as we’d like to be very competitive and competing for a championship next year, it may or may not happen, ok?

Q: So how’s Kobe going to handle that?

A: He’ll be fine. He’s got no choice. He’ll be fine. When we lose, he’ll rant and rave and be upset and be hot and won’t talk to anybody, but that’s the way it is. You’ve got to take the good with the bad.

Q: But with all the talk about Phil here, those people don’t often talk about how you’re still here and what you’ve accomplished. Does that ever hit your ego, that idea that there’s not more talk about “In Mitch we trust”?

A: Well the people that I need to know trust me, and they made it clear that they do. I understand from the public’s point of view that Kupchak doesn’t hold a candle to Jackson. Once again, it’s a good story so that didn’t really bother me. But the people in the organization certainly — Jimmy, and I know Jeanie — trust me too. And for over 30 years, Dr. Buss showed incredible trust and loyalty to me. So to me, that’s what was important. That was it.

Q: Was there any internal discussion about Phil coming back, and where did you stand on that? How did that go?

A: Yeah. Yeah. I mean there was nothing formal. This went on for a year or two.

Q: But the most recent one.

A: Well I don’t know when the most recent one was. We discussed a year or two ago about how could we — and this was Jimmy and I and I know he may have discussed it with his family — and it was open for discussion. And it was kind of a standing understanding, but I think Jeanie said it best two weeks ago. At the end of the day, there was no position for a person of his stature.

Q: What does that mean? Can you translate that? Because what it sounds like to me is that Phil is a larger-than-life figure and if he’s coming he wants final say. Was that a factor?

A: Well I’m not sure that it got to that, but what we talked about was involvement and being a piece, a part of it. But based on where he ended up and what he got, it’s easy to see why he did what he did. It’s a no-brainer. Before you even get to the money, he got a wonderful — a challenging — but a wonderful opportunity. Logistically, he has got to work it out but, um, you know, it’s one of those things where I’m not sure if it’s what he was looking for but when it came on the table you can’t turn it around.

***

No. 5: Noel says his knee is ’100 percent’ healthy — The Sixers, last we reported in this space, seemed to be pretty convinced that rookie big man Nerlens Noel won’t be hitting the court until the Summer League. Noel, understandably, wants to play sooner than that. But in his first comments to the media in months, said he understands Philadelphia’s reasoning in taking it slow with him as he recovers from a torn ACL injury suffered in Februrary 2013. He also told the assembled media that his knee is ’100 percent’ and he’s jumping higher than before, too.

Calling his rookie season “a great learning experience,” Philadelphia 76ers center Nerlens Noel said Tuesday he still hopes to make his NBA debut in one of the team’s final five regular-season games but realizes the team’s cautious approach with him has been for the best.

“Obviously I do want to play,” Noel told reporters in Philadelphia. “I’m a 19-year-old who’s been sitting down on the sideline really wanting to get out there and show my abilities and to be able to play ball.

“It’s been tough, but it’s something we had to do.”

Noel was cleared for “limited on-court work” in January, but Philadelphia at the time said he still needed to meet “several benchmarks” in order to play for the team “to ensure a long, productive NBA career.”

On Tuesday, Noel deemed his knee “100 percent,” saying he’s gained over 3 inches on his vertical leap since before the surgery and overall is “stronger and moving around well.” He’s also overhauled his shot with the help of 76ers coach Brett Brown.

“I am very encouraged,” Noel said. “Through the past year since I had my injury, I have pushed myself through thick and thin and I’ve had some struggles and I’ve just stayed with it.

“I definitely worked my butt off to get where I am at now.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kansas star center, Joel Embiid, is expected to announce he’s entering the 2014 Draft … The Rockets still aren’t sure when Pat Beverley or Dwight Howard will return to the lineup … Is Evan Turner the “selfish dude” center Roy Hibbert was referring to a few weeks ago? … Shotblocking legend Dikembe Mutombo says that a legendary story about him in college is untrue … Last night might have been the final matchup between Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and Timberwolves coach Rick AdelmanRay McCallum is getting a ton of experience in his rookie season with the Kings

ICYMI(s) of the Night: Two future Hall of Famers — Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash — etch their names deeper in NBA lore, and, oh yeah, a game-preserving block by a rookie on the league’s reigning MVP. Not a bad night at all in the NBA …


VIDEO: Dirk Nowitzki scores to pass Oscar Robertson’s as the NBA’s 10th all-time leading scorer


VIDEO: Steve Nash records this assist to pass Mark Jackson for No. 3 on the all-time assists list


VIDEO: Mason Plumlee gets up to reject LeBron James’ dunk on the game’s final play

 

2014 Pacers flashing back to 1969 Cubs

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: The GameTime crew discusses Indiana’s late-season swoon

Cue the black cat at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

It really is the only thing left, a symbol of the rotten luck that befallen the Indiana Pacers lately — well OK, poor performance is the real culprit — but more so a link to the sort of sports swoon the Pacers are experiencing as they flail to finish the 2013-14 regular season.

It’s a famous picture – an ominous black cat set loose at old Shea Stadium, scampering past the visitors’ dugout as Chicago Cubs third baseman Ron Santo gawked from the on-deck circle. And it has served ever since as shorthand for the collapse of the 1969 Cubs, one of the worst ever in U.S. team sports history. And one that seared itself into the memory of a mere lad whose sports enthusiasm was just beginning.

Right: Mine. Growing in the near-suburbs, my family had taken me to Wrigley Field a few times that summer, which wasn’t so much a baseball season as it was a festival. Of Ernie Banks‘ smile, of day baseball, of ivy-covered walls, of Santo and Billy Williams at the plate, of the Bleacher Bums, of Ferguson Jenkins’ work from the mound, of Ken Holtzman‘s first no-hitter and, mostly, of winning. The Cubs grabbed first place with an 11-inning victory on Opening Day and held it for 155 days, slipping to second with just 20 games left in the 162-game season.

Their nosedive had begun a month earlier, though, their nine-game cushion in the NL East saving them for a while but dialing up the stress, too, as it dwindled. On Aug. 13, the Cubs were 74-43, nine games up on St. Louis and 10 in front of the soon-to-be “Miracle” Mets. Chicago went 18-27 the rest of the way while the Mets finished 38-11. It wasn’t even close – an eight-game gap – by the end.

The Pacers, at the moment, look to have passed their tipping point. Rock bottom has come yet again, the 107-88 mess against Atlanta in which Indiana scored 23 points in the first half and couldn’t get out of its own way, either on the court or on the side. That’s where center Roy Hibbert, a sensitive fellow, splayed his 7-foot-2 frame on the bench for most of the game after being yanked by coach Frank Vogel. The body language, the blank stare, the lack of interest in his teammates’ comeback quest or Vogel’s timeout huddles – you’d have sworn Hibbert had seen a black cat cross the Pacers’ path.

Still to come, perhaps: One Pacer airing out another in public, the way Santo screamed at centerfielder Don Young after a game-busting dropped fly ball.

It’s too early to rank what’s happening in Indiana among pro sports’ all-time collapses, such as the 1995 California Angels, the 2007 Mets, the 2003 Minnesota Vikings or others. The NBA and the NHL are tricky that way, because a front-runner like Indiana that loses its way – the Pacers had staked out the No. 1 seed from the get-go and looked capable of going wire-to-wire until a few weeks ago – still ends up qualifying for the playoffs.

That gives it a chance against a lower-seed team to right itself, and avoiding a first-round upset tends to restore some measure of confidence. In the NBA, it’s the teams that cough up potential success in the postseason that get remembered for their big fails. Like the 1993-94 Seattle SuperSonics (losing to No. 8 seed Denver), the 1999-2000 Portland Trail Blazers (blowing a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter of Game 7 vs. the Lakers) or the 2006 Dallas Mavericks (up 2-0 in The Finals before losing four straight to Miami).

But who’s kidding whom? Indiana’s game has gone south in almost all areas, offensively and defensively. The trust level in the locker room has bottomed out, and Vogel’s job security now is a daily topic in local and national media – anything less than a return to the East finals, or maybe The Finals, might bring a pink slip, insiders say and outsiders speculate. The Pacers are 13-13 since the All-Star break – there’s been no “Miracle” out of Miami, 16-9 in that time, but it has been enough to chase down a front-runner gone sideways.

It’s still a swoon rather than a collapse, but if the Pacers don’t already feel enough pressure to fix all that ails them, they should know this: There are little kids throughout Indiana on the brink of being traumatized for life as sports fans.

What, you say that isn’t likely to help the situation?

Hang time podcast (episode 154) … the franchise player debate and featuring pacers coach Frank Vogel

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS —  A quick list of the NBA’s best and most complete players includes names like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kobe BryantChris Paul and Tim Duncan, just to name a few, at the very top.

The best of the very best.

Winners.

Difference makers.

Proven stars.

Franchise players.

So where does that leave guys like James Harden, Paul George, Dwight HowardKevin Love and Steph Curry, just to name a few, who are stuck in that superstar middle ground. They look like franchise players and get paid like franchise players but in the eyes of some, namely their predecessors who now serve as pundits, aren’t quite on that level, just yet or anymore.

The franchise player debate (is it just someone whose mastered a certain part of the game or someone who has mastered many?) has gone on forever and will continue to do so. We weigh in on Episode 154 of the Hang Time Podcast, which also features an interview with Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel, whose team is struggling right now as George attempts to make that transition from All-Star to franchise player.

As the playoffs get closer and closer, the true franchise players will reveal themselves. And once the postseason hits, there is no hiding …

Dive in for more on Episode 154 of the Hang Time Podcast … The Franchise Player Debate and Featuring Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel …

LISTEN HERE:


As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

Blogtable: How to fix the Pacers

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: Buying into the Spurs | Fixing Indiana | West 5-6-7-8



VIDEO: Sam Mitchell examines the recent freefall of the Indiana Pacers

> You’re Frank Vogel. Your Pacers are crumbling, inside the locker room and on the court. It’s time for some bold, major moves. Isn’t it? Got any?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Look, it’s probably too late for clever coaching tricks: a lineup shake-up, a mini-boot camp where there are 2-3 loose days in the schedule or even the counter-programming and pressure release of taking the team to Vegas for a night. Frank Vogel has fiddled with his rotation to no real result. At this point, all that comes to my mind is going all-in on inside-out play, demanding that the offense find Roy Hibbert and David West down low, pounding the ball down low and cutting the temptation for hero ball from Paul George and Lance Stephenson. Keep the wings and guards moving and cutting — Indiana has been standing around an awful lot lately. Get C.J. Watson back, because his outside shooting is a scarce commodity with this club. Oh, and if Andrew Bynum can get with the program and stay available, great. If not, bye-bye.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Major moves?  Like a UFO from Darryl Dawkins’ home planet of Lovetron landing in an Indiana cornfield and delivering a young Reggie Miller or Larry Bird?  Other than swinging a big club in the locker room, Frank Vogel’s only play is to calm things down, go back to basics and remind his team that they were good enough to build the league’s best record for most of the season.  Teams are always telling us that the regular season means nothing once the playoffs start.  Now the Pacers get to hit the reset button and walk that walk.  Maybe a team viewing of highlights of the 1995 Rockets (No. 6 seed) would help.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: All that’s left is for Frank Vogel to confront his team, demand they look each other in the eyes and ask them how they want to be remembered. Do they want to go down as one of the biggest collapse jobs ever, or as fighters? We can go through a litany of on-court issues, particularly on the offensive end, but this is now all about the players playing for one another and figuring out how to get their mojo back. If not, it’s lights out — maybe even in the first round.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Yes, it is time for something bold. No, I don’t have any. This is about attitude and approach, so Vogel needs to manage personalities. Seven games to go before the playoffs isn’t the time to make drastic changes to the offense that is grinding gears or to the lineup. The rotation has worked for much of the season, so it can work again. But Vogel has to be an assertive leader to ensure the locker room gets back to a good place. He can’t let this fracture more.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: “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.” – John Schuhmann, March 26, 2014. Yeah, they stink right now, but April 2 isn’t the time to be making changes. The Pacers will never be a great offensive team, but they have a system that works well enough when guys are playing well and playing together. I don’t know if they’ll get there in time to make it out of the second round, but it’s more likely to happen if they stick to their identity rather than try to recreate it.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball Blog: Actually, I think it’s time for the opposite. The Pacers have gotten to where they are by mostly being deliberate. They’ve had this core intact for years, including coach Vogel, as the team organically developed into Conference contenders. This season, actually, has probably had more upheaval than any recent season, between signing Andrew Bynum and trading Danny Granger for Evan Turner. To me the last thing they need is something else to shake things up. I say they trust the infrastructure they have in place and let the new guys embrace their roles the last few weeks of the season. In many ways they seemed to treat this season like a sprint instead of a marathon, and perhaps they can use a few weeks “off” before the playoffs get started.

XiBin Yang, NBA China: First, I’d break the so-called privilege of a superstar. Maybe George could become a genuine superstar someday, but he has not reached that level yet. You could give him a chance to make it happen now, but that doesn’t mean he’ll get there…yet. He’s had a fantastic year, by and large, but he has not been ready to confront everything, which a superstar has to go through, such as how to deal with a double- or triple-team for a whole night, and get to the basket all by himself, or make clutch shots whenever the team needs. The Pacers were established by all kinds solid role players. Before George confirms to everyone that he is the guy that the front office of the Pacers wants him to be, he still ought to play team-first basketball. To break the spell, everybody needs to know his role and play within his role, just as the Spurs do.

Philipp Dornhegge, NBA Deutschland: At this point, I think you have to roll with what you’ve got. You can just cross your fingers and hope that the guys will return to form come playoff time. You could, of course, think about taking Lance Stephenson out of the first unit, but I don’t really believe that it would resonate very well with him. And the Pacers need him. I think you can trust the guys that if the going gets tough in the first round against the Bobcats, guys will step up, overcome adversity and take some momentum into the next round(s). You have to.

Iñako Díaz-Guerra, NBA España: To me, a bold move was the beginning of their fall: the Evan Turner trade. I believe that this isn’t something that Vogel can fix, it’s a locker room issue. Perhaps the leadership of Danny Granger was more important than they thought and now they need one of their younger players to take control of the team. Is Paul George ready for it? Hibbert, perhaps? They need a new leader and the only thing that Vogel can do is wait and pray for it.

George at heart of Indy’s problems

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Brent Barry, Dennis Scott and Matt Winer examine the Pacers’ fall

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — We’ll turn over our weekly spot here to NBA TV research ace Kevin Cottrell, who lays out the problem with the reeling Indiana Pacers in the simplest of terms:

They. Can’t. Score.

Here’s Cottrell:

​Entering the season, the Indiana Pacers were pegged as the biggest threat to dethrone the defending champion Miami Heat. Coming off a disappointing Game 7 loss in the Eastern Conference finals, the Pacers made their ultimate goal clear.

​“Our focus is to be getting Game 7 on our home court,” David West told reporters at Pacers Media Day.

If home court was goal 1A, enhancing their ability to light up a scoreboard should have been 1B for the Pacers. Heading into Monday night’s matchup with the West leading San Antonio Spurs, Indy posted a 33-4 record at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. But the Pacers are averaging only 97.0 points a game, which ranks 23rd in the league.

Many believe the Pacers’ stingy defense is more than enough to win a title, but the numbers say otherwise. In the Pacers’ five games prior to hosting the Spursthey held opponents to 87.0 points a game. But the Pacers have failed to score 80 points in five of their last six games. According to Elias Sports Bureau, the last team to do so was the 2011-12 Charlotte Bobcats, who set the NBA record for lowest winning percentage in a season (7-59).

So what’s the issue?  Pacers “Do-It-All” Forward Paul George is the team’s only legitimate scoring threat. George is averaging a career high 21.7 points a game, a whopping 7.6 points more than the second leading scorer, Lance Stephenson (14.1). Without a true 1-2 scoring punch, George’s offensive efficiency directly affects the Pacers’ win-loss column. The Pacers started the season 16-1 and George entered the MVP discussion.

Since then, George (and the Pacers’ production) has been on a steady decline month-to-month (see chart below).

Month PPG FG% 3FG% Indy record
Oct 28.0 48-6 41-2 2-0
Nov 23.0 47.2 40.3 13-1
Dec 24.1 46.8 39.4 10-4
Jan 21.3 41.0 31.5 10-5
Feb 21.0 40.1 39.5 9-3
March 18.7 37.2 29.7 8-10
Total 21.7 42.5 36.0 52-23

​Placing all the blame on George’s jump shot may not be fair, but it is accurate. Take a look at the last five NBA Champions (below). It’s no coincidence that all five scored at high clip. Furthermore, each team featured potent scorers: LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant. In the event one of the three aforementioned struggled on a given night, Dwyane Wade, Jason Terry and Pau Gasol could pick up the scoring load.

While some believe defense wins championships, the best teams, especially recently, always have big-scoring offenses.

  • 2012-13:​  Heat ​​102.9 (5)
  • 2011-12:  ​Heat 98.5 (7)
  • 2010-11:  ​Mavericks ​100.2 (11)
  • 2009-10: ​ Lakers ​​101.7 (12)
  • 2008-09: ​ Lakers ​​106.9 (3)

​If the Pacers’ lack of scoring is their biggest hurdle, their ability to win on the road is a close second. After a 40-12 start, Indiana is 12-11 since the All-Star Break. Nine of the 11 losses have come away from the Fieldhouse. Combine their road woes with the fact that they’ve been held to 92.7 points a game since the mid-season break and you’ll find a recipe for an early playoff exit.

The way things are shaping up, the Pacers will likely face the Bulls and/or Heat in an attempt to win the East. Indiana is a combined 0-3 on the road against those two, with an April 11th meeting in Miami on NBA-TV still to go. Ironically, the Pacers may have to win a regular-season game in Miami for a chance to host a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference finals.

Defense has been the Pacers calling card, but winning it all without scoring is rare. If they manage to capture a title despite scoring 96.8 points a game, the Pacers would become the first team to win the title averaging 97 points or less since the 2004-05 Spurs (96.2). Even the Spurs organization, which places an emphasis on defense, currently averages 105.6 points a game. If the Pacers learned anything from their Monday night loss to the Spurs, it’s that the best defense may be a good offense.

Morning Shootaround — April 1


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 31

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pacers lose No. 1 spot in East | Griffin likely to sit out vs. Suns | Cavs readying for major deal? | Gasol recounts ‘scary’ vertigo bout | Gay weighing next move

No. 1: Pacers lose grip on No. 1 in East — Practically since the Eastern Conference finals ended and the Indiana Pacers walked off the court as the losers in Game 7, they have focused and told anyone who will listen how getting No. 1 in the East is their goal in 2013-14. And for every day of the season heading into last night’s Spurs-Pacers game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indiana held up its end of the bargain. But the Pacers have stumbled of late and after last night’s embarrassing 103-77 loss to San Antonio (and the Miami Heat’s win vs. the Toronto Raptors), they no longer have that lofty perch. Our Steve Aschburner was on the scene in Indianapolis last night and takes stock of a locker room that is in a true funk:

Be careful what you wish for. Someone might snatch it away. That’s not quite how the saying goes, but it’s the queasy version that applies now to the Indiana Pacers.All season long, from back in training camp through the many trips and back-to-backs, despite the physical dings and emotional drain of trying to go wire-to-wire, the Pacers had staked out the No. 1 playoff berth in the Eastern Conference as their goal within a goal. They get that, and any Game 7 against their rivals from Miami would be played in Indiana.

It was a marvelous carrot for an 82-game schedule that wields some serious sticks. A rabbit to chase and, once claimed, to flex. A fix for what slipped away last year, when the Pacers did so many things right in Game 6 against the Heat, only to step on that plane to South Florida for one more.

And then, on the final night of the season’s fifth month, it was gone.

The Pacers just hit the snooze button on their own nightmare.

“Good for them. We don’t deserve it,” center Roy Hibbert said in a home dressing room that was more demoralized than angry. “We’ll see, in the playoffs. But we’ve got to figure things out. Miami is a good team. They’ve had a couple hiccups themselves. But we don’t deserve that No. 1 seed.”

Indiana forward David West, who hinted at a variety of basketball and chemistry issues ailing his team now, said: “We’ve got to concede that we haven’t played basketball well enough to deserve the top spot. That’s pretty much it. We haven’t played well enough. We haven’t been a good-looking basketball team for quite some time now. That’s on the guys in this locker room.”

Not “a good-looking basketball team?” West was given another crack at his description of the Pacers at the moment. “We’re probably the most downtrodden, 50-plus win team in the history of the game,” he said. “We watch film from a few months ago, we don’t even recognize ourselves.”

Said Hibbert: “We should all go to group therapy. … We’ve been spiraling. Now we’re splintering a little bit.”

“We’re not playing the game the right way right now,” Paul George said after scoring 16 points on 5-for-13 shooting and, later, citing a severe lack of screen-setting. “We’re not playing for one another. It’s tough to score on any team in this league when you’re trying to do it against the whole team.

“San Antonio is the perfect example. It’s hard to guard them because they move the ball, they share the ball. And it’s regardless of who’s shooting. They want the best shot on offense. That’s the problem we’re having right now.”


VIDEO: David West and others talk about Indiana’s loss at home to San Antonio

***

No. 2: Griffin likely to sit out vs. Suns — As was pointed out by our own Sekou Smith in this week’s Kia Race to the MVP Ladder, Clippers star Blake Griffin has solidified his place of sorts as the NBA’s third-best player this season. So when Griffin suffered a back injury that took him out of the game in Houston on Saturday (which L.A. won), concerns were raised about whether or not he’d be healthy for the Clips’ playoff run. Griffin sat out last night’s win in Minnesota and plans to do more of the same so he will be ready come playoff time, writes Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:

Blake Griffin stood erect with his back up against the basketball stanchion for support, contemplating whether it was wise to push through back spasms that forced him from the game Saturday night in Houston or to rest.

Griffin decided to rest rather than play against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday night. He probably won’t play at Phoenix on Wednesday.

The Clippers have seven regular-season games left before the playoffs start in about three weeks, and they want make sure Griffin is 100% healthy.

“This part of the season is important, obviously, as far as [playoff] positioning and everything else,” Griffin said. “The last two years in the playoffs, I’ve been banged up. I haven’t been 100%. I don’t want it to be that way this year. So I’m trying to be smart about it and I’m trying to be proactive and not do anything to make it a prolonged, healing process.”

Griffin suffered a sprained right ankle before the Clippers played Game 5 of the Western Conference first-round playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies, limiting his effectiveness.

Over the last few weeks, Griffin has had his back wrapped up in ice and heat because of off and on back spasms.

“Most of the time it’s manageable,” Griffin said. “It felt like Saturday wasn’t really manageable. That was the reason for not coming back in.”


VIDEO: The Clippers win in Minnesota without Blake Griffin

***

No. 3: Cavs positioning selves for major trade? — When a playoff-hopeful team (like the Cleveland Cavaliers) signs a player who has never been in the NBA (in this case, Scotty Hopson), it might be seen as a move to add some last-minute depth. But according to Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com, the Cavs’ signing of Hopson yesterday is about anything but that. According to Windhorst, the Cavs’ roster move was one made with an eye toward allowing Cleveland to possibly pull off a major trade this offseason:

The Cleveland Cavaliers are trying to put themselves in position to make a major trade around June’s NBA draft, sources told ESPN.com.

To help facilitate it, the team made an unorthodox but strategic move Monday by signing point guard Scotty Hopson to a two-year, $3.8 million contract. Hopson has never played in an NBA game but will get a check for $1.35 million just for the Cavs’ final seven games of the regular season, sources said.

The Cavs are interested in Hopson, a 6-foot-7 University of Tennessee product who went undrafted in 2011, as a prospect after he played well in Turkey this season. But this move is also aimed at expanding the team’s options in June and July.

Team owner Dan Gilbert approved the last-minute spending in an effort to set his team up to be hunters over the summer. It’s the second significant move made by acting general manager David Griffin, who traded for Spencer Hawes at the trade deadline.

The second year of Hopson’s deal, worth $1.45 million, is nonguaranteed. The Cavs now have a stockpile of nonguaranteed or partially guaranteed contracts that could be attractive in trades around June’s draft.

Combined with the contracts of Alonzo Gee, Matthew Dellavedova and Anderson Varejao, the Cavs have a trove of options to use as trade bait for a team that wants to clear salary-cap space. In addition to their all their own draft picks, the Cavs also own future first-rounders from the Memphis Grizzlies and Miami Heat.

At this time of year, teams routinely sign prospects to contracts with nonguaranteed second years. For example, the Brooklyn Nets signed guard Jorge Gutierrez to such a contract last week. The Heat signed center Justin Hamilton to such a deal two weeks ago.

But these contracts were given out at the league minimum, which is commonplace. The Cavs are taking the extra step of using their more expensive mid-level exception, known as the “room exception,” to create a larger contract for Hopson so he becomes a more valuable trade piece.

***

No. 4: Gasol recounts ‘scary’ bout with vertigo – The Lakers host the Blazers tonight as part of TNT’s doubleheader (10:30 ET) and L.A. should have forward/center Pau Gasol back on the court. The big man’s return to the lineup hasn’t been easy and his season overall has been marred by injury, with his last injury being perhaps the most frightening. Gasol hasn’t played since a March 23 home win over the Orlando Magic as he dealt with a bout of vertigo. ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin has more on Gasol’s return and more:

The Los Angeles Lakers big man recounted the “scary” experience Monday.

“Just really light-headed, dizzy, drowsy state for five to six days at home without really moving much,” Gasol said. “Just laying (down). Let my system kind of readjust. Because it was scary. A scary moment for me and my family and the ones that love me.”

Gasol left the Lakers’ 103-94 win against the Orlando Magic on March 23 at halftime because of dizziness and nausea. The 13-year veteran received immediate medical attention in the locker room and was taken by ambulance from Staples Center to a local hospital for overnight observation.

“It was a nightmare,” said Gasol, who has missed the Lakers’ last four games because of the illness. “I was feeling terrible. Everybody that saw me, they felt bad because I was extremely pale. I was kind of shivering. I couldn’t really move. I had three liters of IV fluid. I couldn’t get up. I couldn’t sit. They had to take me to the hospital on a stretcher. So, the whole experience was not pleasant.”

The cause of Gasol’s vertigo is undetermined. He does not believe that he was struck in the head against the Magic. Doctors surmised that it could be related to the persistent upper respiratory infection that plagued him for much of the first half of the season.

Or, it simply could have been a new virus that caused the inner-ear infection that threw off his balance and brought on the vertigo.

“They could only guess a couple things but nothing for sure,” Gasol said.

“It was scary,” Gasol said. “Luckily I’m a pretty calm person. I usually take things lightly for the most part. I don’t react emotionally very easily, so that kind of plays in my favor. Because I don’t dwell. I don’t overthink. I don’t think of the worse-case scenario. I don’t get nervous. So that kind of helped me out. But a lot of things could have gone through my mind at that point where after a few hours, I couldn’t really move. I couldn’t really move my eyes even because it would make me nauseous or I would vomit and stuff like that.”

The 33-year old has been visiting an ear, nose and throat specialist on a daily basis since being released from the hospital last week after an MRI on head came back normal. He went through a non-contact practice Monday and will test how he feels at shootaround Tuesday to determine if he will play against the Blazers.

“We’ll see how my body reacts when I get up tomorrow after the exercise today,” Gasol said. “I would love to (play).”

Gasol wore a medicinal patch behind his left ear on Monday and continues to do treatment to recoup his balance.


VIDEO: Pau Gasol talks about his bout with vertigo

***

No. 5: Kings’ Gay weighing next contract move — Swingman Rudy Gay has played in 68 games this season, the last 50 of which have come as a member of the Sacramento Kings. The team picked him up in an early December trade with Toronto Raptors and the move has somewhat paid off for Sacramento: Gay is third in points scored (1,012) and second in ppg (20.2). Sacramento, however, has the third-worst record in the Western Conference and must make decisions about its future and roster. That’s where Gay comes in: he has a player-option on his contract for next season and as he tells our Scott Howard-Cooper, he’s weighing what his next move will be:

He says he has not made a decision on the $19.3 million on the table or whether he wants to remain with the Kings at any price. He has so not made a decision, Rudy Gay insists, that he is asked to list a couple factors that will go into the final call and responds, “I don’t know.”It is long after another loss at Sleep Train Arena, this time to the Knicks, in a near-empty locker room after most teammates have left. Gay is sitting in front of his stall, showered and changed and contemplating the unexpected search for career stability.

Memphis for 6 ½ seasons, and then suddenly Toronto and Sacramento in a little more than 10 months, and the career intersection over whether to stay in the current contract with $19.3 million on the books for 2014-15 or declare himself a free agent is approaching. In that setting, feeling so undefined about the future is actually understandable.

“What does my gut tell me?” Gay says of the looming decision and possibly decisions, plural. “I don’t know. My gut tells me different things every day.”

There is this, though: A lot of his comments land on the side of staying with the Kings, whether under the existing deal or by becoming a free agent that would mean giving back a large portion of the next season’s money in exchange for a the security of a larger payout over longer time. It’s light years from Gay committing to Sacramento — and in fact he says he doesn’t want to put numbers on the chances he stays “because right now I’m giving it my all and for me to tell them I’m going to be gone next year, that wouldn’t be fair” — but it is interesting.

The thought of another life change? “It’s tough moving around when you have a family. I have a kid on the way. It’s tough. I want to be settled, obviously, and I want to be comfortable. That has a lot to do with it.” (Which is double-sided, of course. Gay may decide to hit free agency now to get the next move out of the way, rather than another season in Sacramento and the open market in summer 2015.)

And the money. Of course the money. No way he walks away from $19.3 million, right? He’s staying in the deal and will be a King at least next season, right?

“I don’t think about that at all,” he says. “I love this game. I don’t play it for money. Obviously it’s a very big plus that we make a lot to play this game, but I think it’s more important to be happy.”

But people say no one leaves that kind of money on the table.

“They’re not in the NBA,” Gay says. “Those people don’t do the job and work as hard as I do.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kevin Garnett plans to return to the Nets’ lineup next week … Last night, Celtics star guard Rajon Rondo made his debut as a TV analyst for the team’s games … ICYMI, the Kings and DeMarcus Cousins put on an early April Fool’s Day gag … Raptors reserve big man Patrick Patterson has his review of “300: Rise of an Empire”Jay-Z‘s Roc Nation sports agency may end up representing ex-Kansas star Andrew Wiggins in the 2014 Draft … The Lakers might just keep Steve Nash and Kendall Marshall around next seasonOur own David Aldridge and ESPN.com’s J.A. Adande with some must-read views on Kobe Bryant‘s recent comments about Trayvon MartinLou Williams put on a performance reminiscent of his Philadelphia days against the 76ers last night … Amar’e Stoudemire didn’t play against the Jazz last night so he could rest his knees

ICYMI(s) of the Night:One thing we love around here is good passing … and a good dunk … and, while we’re thinking about it, a great call from someone on the broadcast team, too. Thankfully, we’ve got all of that on one sequence here from the Bulls

And, impressive as that Taj Gibson play was, LeBron James (of course) had a play last night that kind of one-ups whatever anyone else did …


VIDEO: Taj Gibson finishes off the Bulls’ passing clinic with a power jam


VIDEO: LeBron James makes the amazing happen with this and-one layup vs. Toronto