Don King must be the Pacers’ new director of public relations.
A less-than-exciting, second-round series for the Heat took a turn toward slightly interesting Wednesday and Thursday when the Pacers’ All-Star center and then the team’s coach tossed a few verbal jabs Miami’s way. King, the master boxing promoter, would be impressed.
First, Indiana center Roy Hibbert fired off a shot at the Heat when he set in motion the team-vs.-collection-of-superstars narrative. Then, as if that wasn’t enough pregame trash talk for one second-round series, Pacers coach Frank Vogel took it a step further when he said Thursday that the Heat’s defense is a flop machine.
“They are the biggest flopping team in the NBA,” Vogel said.
Vogel, who finished third in voting this season for the NBA’s Coach of the Year Award, is no doubt preparing league officials for what’s sure to be a physical series. For his part, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Wednesday that he expects the series to be “played in a cage.” The Heat, which was tied for fourth in the league this season in charges drawn per game (2.3), absorbed seven offensive fouls in its first-round win over the Knicks.
Although wingmen Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Danny Granger will headline the Eastern Conference semifinals matchup, the series could hinge on the battle inside the paint. That’s where the Pacers command a height advantage with Hibbert at center and David West at power forward.
Hibbert inserted himself into the pre-series conversation shortly after the Pacers dispatched the Orlando Magic in the first round. No doubt riding high on a profound sense of accomplishment, Hibbert took a thinly veiled dig at the Heat on Wednesday. Basically, Hibbert thinks the Pacers are a from-scratch, ground-up organization whereas the Heat’s success was built overnight.
“We didn’t do this the easy way,” Hibbert told the Indianapolis Star. “It took time. But Larry Bird and David Morway drafted well. We got [David] West. We got George Hill, Leandro [Barbosa] and Lou [Amundson] for almost nothing. We didn’t do this by signing a couple of superstars.”
The Heat, of course, became an instant contender last season after re-signing Wade and bringing in James and Chris Bosh. This is the Pacers’ first appearance in the Eastern Conference semifinals since losing to the Pistons in 2005.
James complimented the Pacers’ “team-oriented game” Wednesday and said he expects the series “to be fun.” Compared with the Knicks, Wade said the Pacers “are a better team.”
“It will be a tougher series for us,” Wade said. “Indiana plays a lot more in the post. That’s a very good team. … Most teams try to play physical against us. We expect it to be just as physical.”
Although the Heat made quick work of the Knicks, Miami actually lost the rebounding battle in the first four games of its first-round series. Establishing a presence inside will fall to Bosh and the Heat’s collection of marginal centers. They didn’t play a role against the Knicks, but centers Ronny Turiaf and Dexter Pittman could be called into service against the Pacers.
“We know what they bring,” Bosh said. “They can shoot the ball, they have guys that can really play inside and they have great rebounders. We just have to play our game and make sure we control the boards the best we can.”