Posts Tagged ‘Roy Hibbert’

Playoff scenarios aplenty in play on final day of 2014-15 season


VIDEO: Celtics coach Brad Stevens and his crew don’t have to sweat out the final night of the season

NEW ORLEANS — It must be nice to be Brad Stevens and the Boston Celtics this morning. Your hard-earned playoff berth, the No. 7 seed, is locked up. You already know you have a date with LeBron James and the No. 2 seed Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs.

The mission, so to speak, is complete, courtesy of a 95-93 win over the Toronto Raptors Tuesday night.

But not everyone slept as soundly the night before the final day of this NBA season.

For plenty of teams on both sides of the conference divide this is the biggest night of the regular season. For teams still fighting to get into the playoffs and jockeying for postseason positioning, it all comes down to these final 48 (or more) minutes.

The constantly changing playoff picture is still a bit fuzzy for much of the field.

For some the math is simple — win and you are in. That’s the scenario the Pelicans are facing here tonight at Smoothie King Center (vs. San Antonio, 8 ET, League Pass). The Pelicans and Oklahoma City Thunder enter tonight 44-37, but New Orleans holds the tie-breaker over OKC. As such, the Pelicans need to at least finish tied with the Thunder record-wise, but a win tonight can secure them the 8th and final spot in the Western Conference.

The Spurs are locked in a fight to the finish for the No. 2 seed in the West behind the No. 1 seed Golden State Warriors, who locked up that top spot weeks ago and have not looked back. Knock off the Pelicans and the Spurs clinch the Southwest Division and secure that No. 2 spot. Lose and they could tumble to the No. 5 or 6 seed.

So much for that maintenance program Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is famous for employing with his veteran stars. There is too much at stake for all of the teams in that 2-through-7 mix.

In the Western Conference, the Warriors (No. 1 seed), Portland Trail Blazers (No. 4, but no home court) and Dallas Mavericks (No. 7) already have their seeds locked in.

In the Eastern Conference, the Atlanta Hawks (1), Cavaliers (2), Washington Wizards (5), Milwaukee Bucks (6) and Celtics (7) are set.

A quick look at what is at stake for teams still caught up in the crosshairs on the final night of the season

Houston (vs. Utah, 8 ET, League Pass): James Harden and the Rockets need a win over an improved Utah Jazz team, plus a loss by the Spurs, to secure the No. 2 seed and the Southwest Division title. The Rockets could finish with 56 wins, third most in franchise history behind the 1993-94 NBA championship team that won 58 games and the 1996-97 team that won 57.

L.A. Clippers (season complete): They’ve handled their business, winning seven straight games to finish the season and 14 of their final 15, only to have to sit and watch tonight to see who they’ll face in the first round. The Clippers can finish as high as No. 2 (if the Rockets and Spurs lose tonight) and no lower than No. 3 and will host their first-round series. Their opponent? It could be Memphis, the Rockets, Spurs or Dallas Mavericks.

Memphis and Indiana (vs. each other, 9:30 ET, ESPN): The Grizzlies face an energized and motivated Pacers team, fresh off of a must-have double overtime win over Washington Tuesday night. While the Grizzlies have a host of complicated scenarios that can move them up to No. 5, the Pacers are playing for their playoff lives. A loss by Brooklyn or a win by Indiana pushes the Pacers in, where they will face the Hawks in a rematch of last season’s first-round matchup (when the Pacers were the No. 1 seed and the Hawks No. 8). A loss by the Pacers plus a Brooklyn win would put an end to Indiana’s season.

Oklahoma City (at Minnesota, 8 ET, League Pass): The Thunder need to knock off Minnesota in their finale and the Spurs to handle their business against the Pelicans to make sure we get at least four more games of Russell Westbrook. (If the Thunder and Pelicans finish the season with 45-37 marks, the Pelicans get in because they won the season series with OKC 3-1.) The Thunder don’t control their own destiny, but that’s not a concern for a team that has been dealt one severe injury blow after another throughout 2014-15. A loss to the Timberwolves (or a Pelicans win) ends their season, literally and figuratively.

Chicago (vs. Atlanta, 8 ET, League Pass): The Bulls are locked in for home-court advantage in the first round and face the Hawks in a game that has ramifications beyond the first round (they are trying to avoid Cleveland in the second round, provided both teams make it through). They need a win over the Hawks to secure the No. 3 seed. A loss sends them to No. 4.

Toronto (vs. Charlotte, 7 ET, ESPN): The Raptors have a clear path. Beat the Hornets and couple that with a Bulls loss to the Hawks and they secure the No. 3 seed. They have home court either way and will try to exploit that much better than they did last season.

Brooklyn (vs. Orlando, 8 ET, League Pass): The Nets need the playoffs in the worst way, but could see their hopes go up in smoke tonight if the Pacers knock off the Grizzlies later in the night. They need to beat Orlando and hope that the Pacers used up all their mojo in that double-OT home win vs. the Wizards Tuesday.

The possibilities are endless tonight, when we close the curtain on a spectacular regular season and prepare for a postseason that should include much more of the same.

Blogtable: Upset-minded team in East?

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


BLOGTABLE: Extend the season? | Rethinking age limit? | Upset-minded East playoff team?



VIDEOPaul George is holding out hope he’ll be able to return for a potential playoff run

> If I told you a sleeper team was going to pull off a major upset in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, which team would you tag to make that prediction come true: Bucks, Pacers, Hornets or Heat?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Pacers, though I say that without trying to predict the first-round matchups. Indiana already is a different team that most foes have faced this season, and if Paul George is able to return and blend into what’s already working, the Pacers could bite a top seed in the behind. Now, if they wind up eighth and Atlanta stays at No. 1, that’s a tall order because the Hawks came close to upsetting them a year ago and are better now. But given the Pacers’ pride and desire to salvage what had been a mostly lost season, I’d take them very seriously.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The Bucks with their stingy, No. 2-rated defense, 3-point shooting ability, rising youth in Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Michael Carter-Williams and the been-there-done-that smarts of coach Jason Kidd. They could be a we-having-nothing-to-lose handful.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Maybe I’m just getting caught up in the good vibrations of the moment — stringing together wins, Paul George back on the practice court — but I’ll go Pacers. Same problems scoring, but Indy defends and rebounds. Tough not to like that as a starting point for an upset, obviously depending on the matchup. I’d put the Bucks a close second.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Honestly, I don’t like any of their chances, but I’ll go with the Bucks. They’ll likely have a better seeding and therefore a more evenly-matched first round. Plus, they’re young with fresh legs that’ll come in handy in late April, and their coach, Jason Kidd, has been there and done that in this league.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Indiana is the clear pick. The Pacers have been the best team in the league (both in regard to record and point differential) since Feb. 1. They have a great defense and an offense that has improved with a healthy George Hill in the starting lineup and Rodney Stuckey coming off the bench. They have a coach and a roster with playoff experience, and maybe one of the league’s best players coming back. But I would still have a hard time picking them against Atlanta, Chicago or Cleveland. 

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’m tagging the Pacers and relishing the idea, based on the standings at this moment, of a Cleveland Cavaliers-Pacers No. 2 vs No. 7 first-round matchup. Talk about a major upset, this one would be colossal. Paul George comes back. Roy Hibbert rediscovers the All-Star within. Coach Frank Vogel gets his revenge for last season’s meltdown and the team’s staggering fall from grace. Doing it at the expense of long-time foe LeBron James would only add to the intrigue of a storybook scenario for the Pacers … and it is indeed an absolute fantasy. I don’t think there are any upsets to be had in the first round. Not based on what we see in the standings right now.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Pacers are the East’s poor-man version of OKC. Based on their current trend with their best players – including Paul George – returning to health, then no one at the top of the standings is going to want to see Indiana.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I have a hard time pegging the Pacers as an underdog, even as long as Paul George is out. This is a team with guys like Roy Hibbert, David West, George Hill, Luis Scola — quality NBA veteran players. I know that they’ve been without George this season and have dealt with other injuries, but if anything, to me the Pacers have the pieces to be better than they’ve been for most of this season. And then it’s not if George returns, it’s which George might return — I don’t expect to see the George who was one of the best players in the NBA, because that will take time to find and get back to, even just mentally. But I do think if they can get back any version of George that provides depth and is able to knock down an occasional open jumper, that could be a huge postseason help.

Upset-minded East teams
For more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.

Morning shootaround — Feb. 27


VIDEO: Highlights for games played Feb. 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bulls hoping for quick Rose return | Paul George returns to practice | Earl Lloyd passes away | Buyouts not working out for Clippers | Rip Hamilton retires

No. 1: Bulls hoping for quick Rose return — When it was announced earlier this week that Bulls point guard Derrick Rose would need knee surgery, many jumped to the belief that he would miss the rest of the season and postseason. But in a press conference yesterday, Bulls management was bullish on the belief that Rose could be back by the end of the season, and be ready for the playoffs, following surgery scheduled for today, writes K.C. Johnson in the Chicago Tribune

The procedure, which team physician Brian Cole will perform, is a removal of part or all of the meniscus. This type of procedure typically is used to address subsequent tears of the meniscus that Rose originally tore in November 2013.

In that surgery, which Cole also performed, Rose’s meniscus was repaired or reattached, and he missed the remainder of the 2013-14 season. A meniscectomy typically involves a shorter rehabilitation period.

The Tribune, citing sources, has reported there is considerable optimism that Rose’s second meniscus tear is small. Until the surgery is performed and Cole determines how much of the meniscus needs to be trimmed, it’s unknown what the timetable for Rose’s return is.

The Bulls said general manager Gar Forman will address that issue after the surgery. At the team’s annual charity event Thursday night, a feeling of hopeful optimism emanated from team officials.

“Nothing’s an easy procedure, but our anticipation is that there’s an area that’s going to get taken care of and the hope is that he will (play this season),” executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said.

Added Forman: “I don’t want to speculate until (Cole) goes in (Rose’s knee), but we’re certainly hopeful.”

(more…)

Larry Bird gives update on Paul George, Pacers


VIDEO: Bird Meets Media

HANG TIME BIG CITY — At the All-Star break one season ago, the Indiana Pacers were the toast of the Association. They had begun the season with an 18-2 run, and sprinted to the top of the Eastern Conference, earning Pacers coach Frank Vogel a gig coaching the Eastern Conference All-Stars.

From there, however, you could argue it’s mostly been downhill. Following the All-Star break, the Pacers lost focus and direction, and stumbled to a 16-14 second half. It speaks to how amazing they were before the break that they still finished the regular season 56-26. An injured Atlanta Hawks team pushed the Pacers to seven games in the first round of the playoffs, but they then rallied to make it to the Eastern Conference finals, where they were eliminated by the Heat.

Instead of the summer being a time to recharge and refresh, it turned into worst fears realized when All-Star guard Paul George fractured his leg in a Team USA scrimmage. That injury immediately lowered expectations this season, as the Pacers were no longer at the top looking down, but rather somewhere closer to the bottom looking up.

The Pacers have soldiered on without George, and using a balanced attack are currently 17-32, which in the Eastern Conference leaves them just 5 games out of a postseason berth. Understandably, the Pacers haven’t put a time frame on George’s return, although a recent video showed George on the floor and dunking during a practice session.

On Tuesday, Pacers president of basketball operations Larry Bird talked to the media and gave an update on all things Pacers.

Regarding George’s return, while acknowledging he doesn’t know when George will return, Bird left the door open on George seeing action again this season: “I always say if a player is ready to play, they gotta play. We’re not going to hold him back if he’s able to go out there and play.”


VIDEO: Bird on George

Vogel seemed a bit less confident about the chances of seeing George again this season when talking with the media …

Bird also noted former All-Star center Roy Hibbert, “hasn’t been as consistent as I thought he would [be] when the year started, especially with Paul out.”


VIDEO: Bird on Hibbert

The Pacers’ plunge continues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dog days just starting for George’s Indiana teammates


VIDEO: Larry Bird expresses his goals for the 2014-15 Indiana Pacers

Unbridled enthusiasm at the start of any NBA season is natural. Irrational exuberance, that’s something quite different, particularly for the Indiana Pacers this fall.

Maybe that’s why Larry Bird put back in perspective Tuesday any overly optimistic prognoses for star wing player Paul George‘s rehab and return. Yes, the world has seen footage of the Pacers’ hobbled All-Star on the court hoisting perimeter shots. It even has seen him playing a little 1-on-1 with his dog (we’ll leave any snarky comments about rival defenders to you guys).

But that’s a long, long way from the rigors and demands of NBA basketball, as Bird reminded a group of reporters. Paul, who suffered multiple fractures of his lower right leg in a gruesome injury at the Team USA scrimmage in Las Vegas in early August, still is likely to miss the entire 2014-15 season.

“He’s got a rod in his leg. Holding that bone together. And it’s gotta heal,” the Pacers’ president of basketball operations said. “Looks good against his dog, and while he’s standing out there in front of you guys it looks pretty good. Other than that, he don’t do nothin’.”

George being around the team, when he’s not immersed in rehab, is good for his and his teammates’ psyches. But as determined as he has to be in his comeback from the nasty mishap, that’s how the other Pacers have to approach a difficult season that grew more grim as lesser injuries stacked up in the preseason. Power forward David West (ankle sprain) and guards George Hill (knee), C.J. Watson (foot) and Rodney Stuckey (foot) all missed time and will be unavailable or, in Stuckey’s case, limited in the team’s opener Wednesday.

Not that a Bird team would have room for sissies anyway, but the short-term figures to be rather trying. The team’s bench will be thinned by all the reserves — Luis Scola, Donald Sloan, C.J. Miles, Solomon Hill — pressed into starters’ minutes.

“We’re gonna play,” Bird said. “I don’t know what’s gonna happen. These [backup] guys are not used to playing a lot of minutes, they’re going to. It’s not really just taking your lumps. It’s just playin’ — and tryin’ to get better as we go.”

For the franchise that began last season with championship ambitions and began the postseason as the East’s No. 1 seed, the expectations have been dampened. With a roster full at 15, there’s no Bird, McHale or Parish walking through that door — or George either.

“Even when I was playin’, I was out one whole year and we had some of the guys dinged up, but somehow we found a way to battle and win some games,” Bird said. “Our expectation is to get in the playoffs. That’s what we want to do. We’re down a little bit right now, but we think we can make up for it.”

Bird heaped some praised on George Hill for the improvement he had shown before getting hurt. Also, besides cautioning the media against fast-tracking hopes about George’s return, he warned against expecting too much from center Roy Hibbert, a former All-Star whose play dropped off badly last spring. He’s not going to become Hakeem Olajuwon or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar offensively, just by process of elimination or the fact that he has been tutored by both.

“Nah. Roy’s not that type of player,” Bird said. “Roy’s a defensive player. He’s got to protect the rim and, obviously, I’d like to see him score a few more points but not a lot. I think it’s important for him to rebound better than he has in the past, but we’re not putting a lot of weight on Roy’s shoulders because that’s not the type of player he is.”

The weight is on all of the Pacers and, frankly, until a lot of time and healing passes, it probably will be a little more than they can bear.

Hang Time Road Trip: First stop, Cleveland

HANGTIME_PASSENGER

By Sekou Smith

CLEVELAND — At least Mother Nature has a sense of humor.

On the eve of Cleveland and Northeast Ohio’s favorite son’s first official game back in town, she greeted everyone with extremely chilly temperatures (somewhere just north of 40 degrees according to a digital reading on a bank clock downtown) this morning.

Welcome home, LeBron James … you’re not in South Beach anymore.

James traded Miami’s sizzle for the comforts of home and will take the court with the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers against Maccabi Tel-Aviv in the exhibition opener at Quicken Loans Arena tonight (6 p.m. ET, NBA TV).

And the Hang Time Podcast crew will be there to witness the return.

It’s the first leg of the Hang Time Road Trip, a six-day, seven-city NBA training camp odyssey road trip that will take us from the heart of what could be the toughest division in all of basketball this season (Cleveland, Chicago and Indiana at the top of the Central Division) to Philadelphia and New York, where rebuilding projects are in full swing, and down the East Coast and parts unknown (we’ll surprise you) before the bus heads back to our Atlanta headquarters next weekend.

We’ll sprinkle in some of the usual fun and craziness you are used to on the Hang Time Podcast, but our mission is hoops. And there is no better place to kick things off than here in Cleveland, where hope has been restored after one of the greatest summer franchise flips in NBA history.

We’re going to dig in and find out exactly what it’s going to take for LeBron, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving to turn things around immediately in this city that has missed its homegrown “King” terribly the past four years.

On Monday we’re going to investigate the situation in Chicago and see if Derrick Rose really is ready to resume his MVP ways, if Pau Gasol fits as well on the court as he does in theory and if all that we saw from Joakim Noah and the rest of that stout Bulls outfit did without Rose and Gasol is still there.

Tuesday we’ll visit the Pacers — yes, they still have our attention, despite a rough summer that saw them lose both Paul George (injury) and Lance Stephenson (free agency) from the team that won the Central Division with the best record in the Eastern Conference last season. Pacers boss Larry Bird doesn’t do panic. Neither does his coach, Frank Vogel, who has been unabashed in his belief that David West and Roy Hibbert will keep this team among the division and conference elite.

We will head East from there for Philadelphia, where Nerlens Noel‘s first season on the court signals the promise of what could be for a Sixers’ franchise in need of something to believe beyond just the promise of the future.

In New York, we’ll shine a light on the Knicks and see if Carmelo Anthony‘s right in his assessment of his revamped team — ‘Melo swears these Knicks are playoff bound … we’d love to hear what Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher have to say about it.

With so much real estate between New York and Atlanta, we’re bound to stumble upon an interesting situation or two on the ride home. But we’ll save something for the imagination. We’re keeping our options open and will make sure we deliver the hoops, hijinks and hilariousness you are used to on the Hang Time Podcast.

In the meantime, we’ll focus our attention on the LeBron, Love and Kyrie and these Cavaliers.

First impressions, even in an exhibition setting, are everything.

***

Keep up with us around the clock on Twitter or Instagram (using the hashtag #HANGTIME):

Check the Hang Time Blog for our daily (video) podcast recapping our adventures and also Lang’s All-Ball Blog for our daily updates.


VIDEO: Sekou Smith is ready to go in Cleveland

No George, no Stephenson, but Vogel downright upbeat about Pacers


VIDEO: Pacers’ top 10 plays from the 2013-14 season

You see Frank Vogel for the first time since things turned really ugly for his Indiana Pacers team, your initial thought is to commiserate.

Then you hear Vogel talk about the Pacers and what awaits them in this 2014-15 NBA season, and your next thought is to apply a cold compress.

Vogel bounced through the early going at the annual coaches meetings in Chicago with a mile-wide smile and an optimism that had you wondering if, somehow, he had missed July and August. That’s when, in a span of two weeks, Indiana suffered a 1-2 gut punch in the form of Lance Stephenson‘s surprising decision to leave as a free agent and Paul George‘s gruesome, season-crippling injury at Team USA’s scrimmage in Las Vegas.

Yet to look at and listen to Vogel last week, you’d have thought Larry Bird had dialed a time machine back three decades with the idea of reassigning himself from team president to starting small forward.

“We’re going to be fine,” Vogel said. “We’ve got more than enough to compete with the best and we’re going to have another great season. Our approach is, we’re going to try to not skip a beat.”

Vogel’s fingers were not crossed. There was no whiff of rum in the room, and he wasn’t talking in Comic Sans.

He continued: “Two guys being gone – Lance being gone, Paul not being with us because of injury – creates opportunities for other guys. Both at that position and also at other positions to carry a bigger role.”

Ah, OK, so maybe it was the whole interview thing. So you switched off the recorder, looked the Pacers coach in the eye and said, now Frank, how do you really feel?

“I really feel that way,” Vogel said. “I think we’re going to be OK.”

It was time to find a chair for Vogel. Or maybe several so he could lie down. Indiana, despite its 56-26 record last season and berth as the No. 1 playoff seed in the East, ranked 29th in offensive efficiency, according to NBA.com stats. The Pacers were 28th in field-goal attempts, 27th in assists, 24th in points per game and 23rd in offensive rebounding.

George and Stephenson, the team’s dynamic two-way wings, generated an outsized portion of that attack. They combined for 45.5 points and 28.2 shots per game, which was 47 percent of Indiana’s scoring and 35 percent of its field-goal attempts.

George would have been a starter for Team USA in its gold medal-winning effort in the FIBA World Cup tournament. Stephenson would have been a worthy NBA All-Star reserve in February and was expected to remedy that miss this season. Together, the two Pacers were the likeliest sources for some Indiana improvement offensively, while pestering opponents like Dobermans defensively.

Into the breach step retreads Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Miles.

“Those guys are solid NBA veterans,” Vogel said. “It’s not like we’re going to fill the spots with guys who were in the D League last year. And we feel [2013 first-rounder] Solomon Hill is going to be an elite defensive player and a guy who can knock down open shots. We could have played him 25 minutes a game last year and we would have been all right. We just had such depth.

Chris Copeland is going to get a chance to play more. Damjan Rudez, one of the best shooters in Europe, is coming over to play at the ‘three’ or the ‘four.’ So we’ve got answers. You look at that, combined with our point guard rotation’s intact with George Hill and C.J. Watson, our big rotation’s intact with [Luis] Scola, [Roy] Hibbert and [Ian] Mahinmi. There are reasons to be optimistic.”

Hibbert, for instance, has shed 14 pounds in a plan to be more mobile and not so easily shaken when a team with “stretch fives” like Atlanta vacates the middle. Hibbert also spent a week immersed in court time, meals and movies with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, adding the NBA’s all-time leading scorer to his list of illustrious tutors (Bill Walton, Hakeem Olajuwon, Tim Duncan). Hopefully the Pacers center and The Captain screened film other than “Airplane!” and “Game of Death.”

It’s understandable that Vogel might want to stay upbeat, because the alternative wouldn’t do him or his team any good. His biggest concern is defensively, where Indiana has excelled in recent seasons. Hibbert still is the anchor at 7-foot-3 but in George it lost a Scottie Pippen-like shadow for the other guys’ most dangerous point guards and wings. Covering for that with double-teams and help might stress the seams of the Pacers’ schemes overall.

Stephenson did more defensively, too, than just blow in guys’ ears. It seems reasonable to think that, had George’s ghastly leg fractures happened before Stephenson signed with Charlotte, the Pacers might have kept him for a deal better than the three-year, $27 million one he accepted. Or that, given the dire need and urgency, Indiana might have upped its initial offer from five years, $44 million.

Still, if Vogel wasn’t about to bemoan the roster hits with which he’ll have to live all season, he wasn’t going to if-only himself into a blue mood over unfortunate timing.

There is, at least, some encouraging news on George.

“He’s on one crutch now – almost full weight-bearing,” Vogel reported. “He’s got a boot. He still has to have the one crutch. He’s doing really well.

“It’s a challenge for him. But he’s not coming in with a frown on his face, sulking around. He’s doing a lot – lifting weights, doing a lot of core work. He works out five times a week.”

The brink of a new season, on the heels of the FIBA gold medal in the first year of his five-season, $91.6 million extension, makes this one of those tough emotional times for George. He’s stuck on the side as the Pacers prepare to tackle 2014-15 without him. Presumably without him anyway, with George a long shot to return any sooner than next fall.

“I was concerned about it when it first happened, where he was going to be [mentally],” Vogel said. “It’s going to be a long process, once he starts getting out running and learning to trust [the leg] again. But he seems to be of the mindset that his expectations are for a full recovery, and a full recovery as soon as possible.”

George has high expectations. His team now has lower ones. That might explain some of Vogel’s buoyancy: Indiana thrived on its way up, feeling underrated and overlooked in its pursuit of the Miami Heat, and only ran into trouble last season when it got far in front of the field with its 33-7 start.

Dialing down the projections and slipping back into the underdog role it knew so well might be a comfortable fit. Already the Pacers have proven wrong skeptics who suggested they take it down to the studs in a full-blown rebuild. Never was broached, Vogel said.

“Nope. There was some talk about ‘Can you believe people are saying that? Do they understand how long it takes to build a winning culture?’ ” he said.

“We have enough to be really good. Are we the preseason favorites to win the East? No, we’re not anymore. Some fans think the season’s over already. But some fans are like me, like, ‘Hey, they’ll still be pretty good.’ ”

The Pacers will find out soon enough, with neither Vogel’s cheeriness nor Kool-Aid at the concessions stands covering up the results on the Fieldhouse court.

Summer Dreaming: Comeback Player

More Summer Dreaming: MVP | Coach | DPOY | Sixth Man | Most Improved | Rookie

Now we’re into the part of our Summer Dreaming series where we’ve saved everybody eight months of waiting and handed out all of the official NBA awards for 2015. Next up is a look at a few off-the-record categories, starting with Comeback Player of the Year, which the league has not handed out since the 1984-85 season.


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant showed some magic before his injury last season

Kobe Bryant, Lakers — Go ahead, point to those 36 candles he just blew out on his birthday cake. Point to the torn Achilles’ tendon, the fractured kneecap, more miles on his body than an old pickup truck. But you might want to do that pointing from a distance, because the most relentless, driven, refuse-to-face-reality player in the league is apt to bite off that finger. There are all sorts of reasons to doubt that he can return as the player he once was. But, truth is, he won’t even try. While he’s got to carry the load for this revamped — OK, stripped-down-for-spare-parts Lakers team — he’s likely to do it closer to the basket. New coach Byron Scott wants Kobe to use his post skills and smarts to go to work on the inside and put less wear and tear on his body. It’s not likely that Bryant can work miracles and get the Lakers to the playoffs. But he’ll show a lot more than anybody has a right to expect from a  player in his 19th NBA season.


VIDEO: Derrick Rose was the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 2011

Derrick Rose, Bulls — How quickly they turn. In 2011 he was the toast of Chicago as the youngest player ever named MVP. They were starting to line up artists to create the statue that would go up next to Michael Jordan outside the United Center one day. Now Rose has played just 10 games in the past two seasons due to injuries to both knees and a lot of the so-called loyalists are ready to turn the page and call him injury-prone. Remember, though, that he’ll be just 26 in October and that puts him a decade ahead of Kobe Bryant … plenty of time to return to form. He’s coming back to a team that’s added Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott to a core of Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler. It says here that playing with Team USA in the FIBA World Cup will prove to be a benefit in the long run, getting Rose needed minutes and a chance to get back on track before dueling it out with LeBron James and the Cavs for Eastern Conference supremacy.


VIDEO: A coaching change in Brooklyn could be right to Brook Lopez’s liking

Brook Lopez, Nets — A broken right foot last December sidelined him for the season. A short time later then-coach Jason Kidd went to a small-ball lineup that turned the Nets’ season around and got them to the playoffs. But Kidd is gone to Milwaukee, replaced by Lionel Hollins, who got the most out of the Grizzlies by going into the low post with the grind-it-out talents of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Lopez is Hollins’ kind of center, a big man with solid fundamentals who knows his way around the basket. Lopez has reportedly dropped 15 pounds during his rehab, looking noticeably lighter and a bit quicker in workouts. However, you can expect Hollins to slow the pace of the offense and make the most of Lopez’ ability, especially at the defensive end.


VIDEO: Al Horford sat down with NBA.com’s Sekou Smith early last season

Al Horford, Hawks — Just when the hard work was starting to pay off with back-to-back selections to the Eastern Conference All-Star team in 2010 and 2011, Horford virtually lost of two of the next three seasons due to an unusual injury — torn pectoral muscles, left side in 2012 and right side in 2013. In his absence, first-year coach Mike Budenholzer got the Hawks to buy into his share-the-ball beliefs that he brought over from San Antonio, and that got Atlanta into the No. 8 spot in the playoffs. The Hawks have definitely overpaid to put Thabo Sefolosha out on the floor as a needed wing defender. But if they’re going to take a step back up in the improving Eastern Conference, it will be Horford getting back to his old double-double self (17.2 points, 10.2 rebounds per game) from the 2012-13 season. His injuries have definitely drawn less attention than Bryant, Rose and maybe even Lopez, but his loss was just as significant to his team.


VIDEO: Roy Hibbert was a Defensive Player of the Year nominee

Roy Hibbert, Pacers — No broken bones, no torn ligaments, just a shattered confidence and reputation and a franchise left in pieces. Hibbert’s crisis of self-doubt resulted in his game falling faster than a piano off the rooftop of a skyscraper. When he was one of the league’s top rim-protectors in 2012-13, Hibbert solidified the Indiana defense, enabling the Pacers to sniff at the heels of the then-defending champion Heat. When he felt neglected in the offense over the second half of last season, the Pacers were a disjointed mess. Now they’ve lost the injured Paul George, likely for the season, and Lance Stephenson took the free-agent dollars and fled to Charlotte. That means the Pacers clearly don’t have the talent to compete at the top of the Eastern Conference. Still, this is an opportunity for Hibbert to accept the challenge and the burden as a leader and to start to lay a new foundation for the future. This time, at least, he should get his shots.


VIDEO: Deron Williams turns around Chris Paul in this play from 2013-14

Deron Williams, Nets — It wasn’t that long ago when some scouts would have tabbed Williams as the best all-around point guard in the league. He has size, the ability to break down defenses and he can both get to the rim and nail his open jumpers. But that hasn’t been on display much since he joined the Nets. Now the soon-to-be 30-year-old is trying to overcome a series of ankle surgeries that have clearly slowed him down and made his whopping contract one of the most unrewarding in the league. New coach Hollins is not one to baby his players. He’ll lean heavily on Williams to run the offense and be the leader. But a slower tempo could be just what’s needed for a return to previous All-Star form.

Blogtable: Are the Pacers done?

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


BLOGTABLE: Risk/reward and the USA | Indy’s dilemma | Pick a center


> You’re Larry Bird. Paul George is out. Lance Stephenson is gone. What are your plans for the Pacers? When can you make them a factor again?

The success of the Pacers next season will rest largely on Roy Hibbert's shoulders. (Ron Hoskins/NBAE)

The success of the Pacers next season will rest largely on Roy Hibbert’s shoulders. (Ron Hoskins/NBAE)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: The cupboard is too bare, I fear, for the Pacers to be much of a factor this season. The contender that most needed an offensive overhaul has suffered an offensive mugging, losing its starting and shot-creating backcourt. Shawn Marion wouldn’t be any real answer at this stage of his career, C.J. Miles is C.J. Miles, and unless Rodney Stuckey was holding back something brilliant from Pistons fans, he won’t be a savior either. David West is getting long in the tooth and Roy Hibbert remains a 7-foot enigma. On defense and muscle memory, Indiana can grab a lower playoff rung in the East. But that’s about it. Can Reggie Miller suit up again?

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: You take a page out of an old Western movie and circle the wagons. The Pacers don’t have to look outside their own division to see how the Bulls made no excuses and instead made a commitment to defense and team play the past two season. Hello, Roy Hibbert. It’s your time to step up and shoulder the burden. The challenge is to develop a stronger supporting cast for when George does return in 2015-16 and vaults Indy back into the Eastern Conference contender race.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s a lot of choices out there other than going out and playing with the hand they’re dealt. Maybe this can be Indiana’s David Robinson-Tim Duncan moment. Is there a Tim Duncan out there?

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I’m screwed. There will be the chance to sign someone with the injury exception, but obviously anyone who can make the kind of impact the Pacers need now is gone. And any trade consideration only weakens me at another position (and there is no sense to give up a lot for a small forward if I believe George is back after one season). I can, however, set the tone, along with Frank Vogel, that this changes nothing in the expectation that everyone reports to work every day expecting to win. I’m good at that no-nonsense thing.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Tread water. Seriously. Just tread water in the Eastern Conference and do whatever it takes to try to make the playoffs with a roster that has been greatly reduced since last season. Doubt works as a great motivator. And these Pacers will be doubted by many, so they’ll have all the motivation they need. But Paul George could be out for not only the entire 2014-15 season and beyond, which means the Pacers will spend the next two seasons trying to recover from what has turned out to be a catastrophic summer.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Obviously, they’re not going to be a “factor” until at least the 2015-16 season. So Bird should listen to offers for his older vets, including David West, who turns 34 this month and could help another team (Phoenix?) more than he could help the Pacers. Indiana was already pretty brutal offensively. It got worse when they lost Lance Stephenson and now we may be looking at the worst offense in the league. Even if they can remain a top-10 defense without their best perimeter defender, the Pacers will be lucky if they hover around .500 this season.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: You play to your strengths. You’ve still got Roy Hibbert, David West and Luis Scola, so you slow the tempo as much as you can and pound the ball inside, over and over and over. One of Hibbert’s issues last season was gumming up the offense by wanting the ball in the post. Well, now you can have it as much as you want! The Pacers won’t contend in the East this season, but they can still defend the rim, and with more shots to go around, I wouldn’t be surprised if George Hill steps up and posts big numbers as well. So for now, you try and get by until Paul George is back out there.

Rubens Borges, NBA Brasil: The Indiana Pacers are in a pickle. They have already lost Lance Stephenson, one of the only shot creators in the 23rd best offense of the 2013-14 season, to the Charlotte Hornets. With Paul George hurt, Indiana loses the best weapon it had. Not only that, but the Pacers saw one of its best, if not the best, defenders in the team go down. Indiana has two options: pull a 1996-97 San Antonio Spurs and go for a high lottery pick or toil away at the season, hoping a weaker East can salvage 2014-15.  Option A: trade David West or Roy Hibbert for picks, young assets and hope they can land a high pick. Option B: hope that the East, weaker than the West but improved, can provide them with a playoff berth. If I were Larry Bird I would go with option A. Retool a bad offense without losing their defensive anchor, George, and come back stronger in 2015-16.

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: I think Larry Bird needs to challenge Roy Hibbert. The Indiana big man stumbled dramatically in the 2014 post-season, and with George injured, Hibbert has the opportunity to redeem himself. If Bird can get him to play big for Indiana now, it is a win-win for both. At the same time, Bird has to bring in some manpower and getting Shawn Marion, a proven, versatile forward, with tons of experience, would be a good place to start. As for making them a legitimate factor, Paul George has to return at the earliest.