Posts Tagged ‘Mike Wells’

Bird Blames Players, Not Coach

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — You don’t see this very often, a professional sports executive banging on the players (not the coach) for a team’s struggles.

Usually, the coach is the first one to face the firing squad when things go awry. Not in Indiana. Not on Larry Bird‘s watch.

The Pacers’ boss has been giving conventional wisdom the stiff arm since his Indiana State days. So no one should be surprised to hear what he has to say now about his team’s 3-9 slide in their past 12 games. He’s not pointing fingers at interim coach Frank Vogel.

More from my main man Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star:

“We started off pretty strong with Frank, then they hit a lull. They had some problems internally and it took the wind out of them. That has nothing to do with Frank, that’s on the players. The last 10-12 games, the guys haven’t reacted the way you do as professionals,” said Bird, who was on hand to witness the lackluster 26-point loss at Minnesota on Wednesday.

Team chemistry has been a concern all season due to the abundance of younger players and the absence of a leader.

The Pacers jumped to a 7-1 start under Vogel, capitalizing on a soft portion of the schedule.

Bird said strong starts are not uncommon when a coach is fired during the season.

Things came to a head, however, during and after last weekend’s loss at Houston.

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About Last Night: Pacers Shock

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Did you miss the fireworks show in Los Angeles last night?

And we’re not talking about Blake Griffin‘s vicious 35-point, 14-rebound, seven-assist effort in a losing effort against the Utah Jazz. No, we’re talking about the surging Indiana Pacers — yes, that’s surging — and their upset of the Los Angeles Lakers on the two-time defending champ’s home floor.

The Pacers have notched wins over the Lakers and Heat and have won six of their past 10 games. If that doesn’t qualify as surging, we’re not sure what does.

The Prime Minister is certainly feeling good about “his Pacers” getting things going. He’s already begun the chatter about Pacers center Roy Hibbert sneaking his way onto the Eastern Conference All-Star team (with Dwight Howard getting voted in as the center, he figures Hibbert can battle Al Horford and Joakim Noah for a reserve spot). You already know about our grassroots campaign for Josh “McBob” McRoberts to make it to All-Star Weekend for the slam dunk competition.

But there is more going on with these Pacers, as my main man Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star explains:

Danny Granger said he hopes the rest of the league is taking notice of what they’re doing.

Kobe Bryant (season-high 41 points) is definitely taking note. He called the Pacers a playoff team.

“We’re not sneaking up on anybody anymore,” Roy Hibbert said. “We are a very talented team. You know we got guys that can shoot and I’m trying to put in work down there in the post. Only good things can come if we keep working and communicating.”

One of the most impressive things about the Pacers’ victories at Miami and the Lakers is that they built a double-digit lead against both of those teams and fought off the runs they made on them.

I’ve talked to a number of scouts around the league over the past few weeks and they’ve all said the Pacers are a dangerous team. Hibbert is getting rave reviews from so many people.

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The best of the worst

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The Butler Bulldogs aren’t the only basketball team from Indianapolis playing quality basketball in March.

Sure, a trip to the Elite Eight is sweet and all.

But the Pacers have won five of their last six games and win with a home win tonight over Utah they could secure a winning month for the first time since Reggie Miller was in uniform (kidding, and they actually played near .500 ball, they were 6-7, in November).

Seriously, they’ve played .500 ball since the end of February and have shown some teeth in recent weeks, knocking off teams like the Thunder and Bobcats.

I asked my main man Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star why the Pacers have suddenly come into their own and he admitted that he believes it’s a genuine effort to turn things around by franchise still wounded from the infamous brawl at the Palace of Auburn Hills in 2004.

“They are trying to send the right message to the fans,” Wells said of the Pacers’ late-season surge. “They need for the fans to understand and really to believe, that they can have a winning attitude in this organization. Because the last four years have been trying on the organization and Pacers fans everywhere.”

That’s great news in one respect, but the Pacers’ surge comes at a price, as Wells pointed out that the Pacers have chosen a bad time to be good:

“Just two weeks ago, the Indiana Pacers  appeared to be headed toward their first top-five draft pick since selecting Rik Smits second overall in 1988.

They had the league’s fourth-worst record, which comes with an 11.9 percent chance of landing the No. 1 overall pick. Even if the pingpong balls didn’t bounce their way, they still could have been in the mix for potential impact forwards such as Georgia Tech’s Derrick Favors or Kentucky’s DeMarcus Cousins.

A funny thing has happened to those high draft dreams, however: The Pacers started winning.

They’re 7-7 since Feb. 27, the best record among the league’s 10 worst teams.

The Pacers are 5-1 in their past six games, including a current four-game winning streak. Two of those victories came against playoff-bound Charlotte and Oklahoma City. They have dropped to eighth in the draft lottery standings, which means a 2.8 percent chance of winning the top pick.

The Pacers chose a bad time to turn it on.

ESPN.com’s Chad Ford, whose specialty is the draft, wrote on his weekly online chat that the Pacers have gone from landing Favors or Cousins to being in “line to draft (Kansas’) Cole Aldrich or (Georgetown’s) Greg Monroe.”

It’s startling and a bit sad to see how far this once proud franchise has fallen of late.

One year you’re a 61-win team, tops in the league, and appear poised to be a title contender for years to come … and then five, six years later you’re the best of the worst!

Folks in Indy believe that they have the young nucleus now that will help bring them back to prominence one day:

We’re not so sure.

But this is what you do when you’re the best of the worst.