Pacers look interesting once again
The city of Indianapolis has bigger issues
on its plate right now:
The fate of Indianapolis Colts coach Jim
Caldwell. The decision on quarterback
Peyton Manning. The draft of Andrew Luck. A
nd, of course, whether to attend the
Maxim or Rolling Stone Super Bowl parties.
(OK, that's my issue.)
The Indiana Pacers, for the time being, are
a secondary consideration.
Which is too bad, really, because they're
writing one of the NBA's best early-season
stories, and continued to do it Saturday
night with an easy 97-83 throttling of the
Boston Celtics at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
After years of flailing, Indiana has a
contender. Not a championship contender;
there are less than a handful of teams who
really have a chance to win the title. But
they are a playoff team with a chance to
make some postseason noise, and when's
the last time you could say that about this
Forever, it seems.
This team is the real deal. After 12 games,
nine of them victories, this is no longer a
fun little team carrying momentum off its
playoff performance against the Chicago
Bulls. The league should, and will notice:
There's big-time NBA basketball in
What's not to love, except maybe for the
occasional Danny Granger heave and/or
If the Pacers keep rolling like this, the
interim-turned-head coach will get some
Coach of the Year consideration. In less
than a year's time, with a lockout thrown in,
he has completely de-O'Brien-ized and
lobotomized his team.
They've now won eight games when scoring
fewer than 100 points; they did that seven
times all of last year. Vogel talked about
"smashmouth" basketball and has
delivered. They defend. They rebound.
They get to the free-throw line. In short
order, he has taken a soft, 3-point
shooting team and turned it into a beast.
Saturday night was the perfect illustration.
Twenty offensive rebounds for 23 second-
chance points. Forty-two points in the
paint. And they did what Vogel wanted;
namely, push the pace. They finished with
23 fast-break points.
The new guys, David West and George
It's a different team, a different locker
room, a different mind-set with the
addition of these two old souls. Watch a
game, and when a Pacers player falls to
the floor, it's invariably West or Hill coming
over first to help them up. It's a small thing,
and it's huge.
West and Hill get it.
West's thunderous left-handed dunk over
Jermaine O'Neal suggested he's pretty
much past those knee problems.
Asked if West has exceeded expectations,
Vogel jumped. "He has, he really has,'' he
said. "In particular, in terms of fourth-
quarter offense. Our execution offensively
in the fourth quarter lost us the Bulls series.
Already this year, (West) has been
responsible for two or three wins we
wouldn't have gotten otherwise.''
Every time I watch him play, I think he
should be wearing a wrestler's singlet. He's
ungainly and unorthodox, but he has
proven more people wrong than Tim
Tebow. A lot of us (blush) thought he'd be
a deep rotation player on a good team,
figured his college game wouldn't translate
to the pro game. Instead, he's been one of
the best sixth men in the league.
Although he really should have stuck with
the rec-specs/yellow headband look. Just
for my amusement.
Look who's grown up. It takes longer for
big men to figure it out, and Hibbert has
finally figured it out. It's not just the
production, it's the consistency of
With Hibbert, it's been as much about the
mind as about the body. (Remind me to do m
y relaxation exercises after this column.)
When something bad happens, it doesn't
turn into five bad things. When bad games
happen -- and that hasn't really happened
yet -- it doesn't turn into a weeks-long
Hibbert was feeling particularly good about
himself in the third quarter when he hustled back and swatted Kevin Garnett at
the basket, following that up with some
"He's just playing more physical," Vogel
said. "There's no softness to his game
All he does is whatever the Pacers need on
a given night. Over time, you'd like to see
him become more assertive, and he still
gets called for charging more often than
anybody would like, but he has a special,
intuitive sense of what the Pacers need.
Scoring? He did it Saturday night, did it
early against the smaller Ray Allen.
Larry Bird has developed a strong draft
record (Hibbert, Hansbrough, Granger,
Lance Stephenson and George), and
George may prove to be the best of the
bunch. We are no longer asking the
question we asked on draft night two
summers ago: Paul who?
There's athleticism here. There's power.
There's depth. There's balance. There's
unselfishness. There's a hint of nastiness.
There are still some holes. Bird still wishes
he had a Jamal Crawford-style mega-
scorer off the bench. There are nights
when Granger, still their best player, shoots
too often and too aimlessly. They still aren't
getting elite play from the point guard,
although that hasn't really been necessary.
But this has the makings of the best year
since Ron Artest took John Green's
beverage in the chest. And it's time the city
began to notice.
Now about Jim Caldwell . . .
Bob Kravitz is a columnist for The
Indianapolis Star. Call him at (317) 444-
6643 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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