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It might seem odd for someone that stands 7-2 and weighs 278 pounds, but the key to Roy Hibbert's NBA career lies in his ability to keep taking baby steps.
His progress won't always be as obvious as it was Monday night, when he racked up 17 points, nine rebounds and three blocks in 23 minutes in a 103-95 loss in Memphis. But it must be steady and continuous. From all indications, he has the makeup to maximize his physical gifts
“He’s a real worker and he’s a student of the game,” said Coach Jim O’Brien. “He wants to know what we want him to do very specifically and then he says, ‘I’ll do it,’ and then he does. He is learning quicker than most rookies because he’s a very good listener, very good at questions, he studies the game and he’s in remarkable condition.”
Hibbert’s impressive outing followed up an 18-point showing from fellow rookie Brandon Rush in Friday’s victory over Chicago. Though Rush struggled through a 3-of-11 night when thrust into the starting lineup for the first time due to injuries to Danny Granger (sprained left elbow) and Marquis Daniels (strained groin), Hibbert stepped forward.
“I think I learned a lot from that game,” Hibbert said. “If you look at it, statistically, I did OK but there were a lot of things to work on. I got a lot of quick fouls so I have to go back and watch the tape, adapt and learn.”
O’Brien sends message: Injuries are no excuse
With no fewer than nine players on Tuesday’s injury report, O’Brien said the team didn’t have enough healthy bodies to practice, so they went over the video of Monday night’s game and went through light drills.
“When I brought them out and got the trainers’ assessment of our health, it was going to be three-on-three and we had to use me and Larry (Bird),” he said with a smile. “That’s not going to work out too well.”
All kidding aside, O’Brien said he told the players the health issues were not an excuse for the team’s slow preseason start. The Pacers have been without at least two starters (Mike Dunleavy and Troy Murphy) in all three games and added a third to the list (Granger) in Memphis.
“What I said to our players today … and I don’t want them to think I’m overreacting after three preseason games but it’s an 82-game schedule and maybe you play five games when you’re totally healthy as a team,” he said. “The other 77 you’re banged-up in different degrees, so win basketball games. Whether you’re banged-up or not, it doesn’t matter. That was the message.”
O’Brien even went so far as to retract his previous statement after the 105-71 loss to New Orleans in the preseason opener in which he addressed the possibility of the players having tired legs after a rigorous training camp.
“I regret saying that. I think that was an excuse and I take it back,” he said. “I’m not worrying about the guys getting worn out. In order to be the best-conditioned team in the league, you’ve got to run through some aches and pains and persist in your conditioning.”
Daniels, Murphy (sore left Achilles tendon) and Travis Diener (sore left foot) will not play Wednesday against Dallas in Conseco Fieldhouse. Granger, Dunleavy (sore right knee), Maceo Baston (ill) and Austin Croshere (ill) are day-to-day; and Josh Davis (sprained right ankle) and Stephen Graham (groin) are probable.
Ball pressure, quicker tempo needed
Movement – of the ball, to the ball and by the players – was the other theme of the day. Defensively, O’Brien wants to see more pressure on the ball. Offensively, he wants more ball movement and a more consistent commitment to a quick tempo.
“Everything that was a problem (Monday) is correctable with ball pressure, closing out on somebody and reading what the situation is,” O’Brien said. “We’re making strides in every area defensively. Offensively what we need to do is just run our butts off and create the tempo we want to create.
“Other than our second game against Chicago, about two quarters were the type of tempo we need – meaning up and down, north and south, and then east and west with ball movement. We’ve played 12 quarters and I’ve been happy with the tempo two of those quarters.”
Fast breaks …
Dunleavy went through his hardest on-court workout of the preseason and said the pain in his right knee has receded to the point he hopes to be back “real soon.” He said he’s targeting either Friday’s home game against Memphis or Saturday’s game in San Antonio.
There was no word from the Pacers Tuesday as to the status of Eddie Jones. The veteran guard was acquired in the Shawne Williams trade Friday but has yet to report to the team. The 48-hour deadline to report expired Sunday at 5:30 p.m.
This is an unusually grueling week for the Pacers. Monday’s game in Memphis began a stretch of four in six nights. They play at home Wednesday against Dallas and Friday against Memphis and travel to San Antonio Saturday.
I'm starting to think maybe Hibbert is going to be the surprise of his draft glass!