Notebook: Confidence is Contagious
As with anything, a lot of what the Indiana Pacers are doing is about confidence. It hasn’t always been there, but when it has, they’ve looked like a team ready to pick up where they left off last season.
When the regular season started, they were hit with the unexpected news that their leader, Danny Granger, was out indefinitely and the Pacers’ new pieces were taking time to mesh. Through their early trials, the eldest players, David West and George Hill, shouldered the load. Then in December, Paul George came around after failing to score in their game at Golden State. He changed his routine, got in a rhythm and now reeks of confidence. George is consistently the Pacers best weapon on both ends of the floor, as seen Tuesday against the Miami Heat.
One guy whose season has surprised everyone has been Lance Stephenson’s. Well, maybe not Larry Bird, who drafted Stephenson while team president in the second round of the 2010 draft. Stephenson’s maturation over the last six months has been obvious and has helped him raise his level of play.
Some of the improvements that head coach Frank Vogel noted: His decision making on the court, defensive know-how and discipline, professionalism, demeanor in the locker room and at practice. All was still a work in progress, Vogel was quick to point out.
Before the Pacers took the court Tuesday against Miami, Dwyane Wade may or may not have been drooling with the thought of Stephenson, once the king of New York street ball, guarding him. Wade scored on Stephenson with ease from the outset and was responsible for seven of his team’s first 11 points. Stephenson, who scored seven of the Pacers’ first eight, didn’t get discouraged.
“Lance, to his credit, didn’t back down, didn’t shy away, embraced the challenge, played with physicality and offensively, he went back at Dwyane Wade and that’s something that we weren’t able to do last year in the playoffs well enough,” Vogel said.
Stephenson buried two three-pointers in the middle of third quarter Pacers and defensively, held Wade to just one field goal and seven points in the final two quarters after 23 in the first half. With a confident and determined look on his face, it was clear that he loved the head-to-head matchup.
Over the last nine games, Stephenson has scored in double figures seven times. He recorded 28 assists to just five turnovers while playing almost 31 minutes per game.
“Mainly on the court, (it’s) his confidence. His feeling that he belongs and the way he’s playing has really been a big lift to our team.”
Stephenson is just another example. With George and he playing the best basketball of their young careers and reserve point guard D.J. Augustin refreshed after a couple of starts while Hill was sidelined, this team is as confident as ever as they near the midway point of the season.
The Pacers were 10-11 on Dec. 9 after losing in Oklahoma City to the defending Western Conference Champions. They have since won 11 of their 14 games over the last month, putting them back atop the Central Division standings with a 21-14 record. They’ll play their next two games at home, where they’re 13-3 on the season, before facing a treacherous stretch with seven of eight on the road.
“It’s all a confidence building journey throughout the course of the season and these little steps along the way (like beating Miami) contribute to that and help you build belief in your basketball team. And belief is as big as anything that you can accomplish as a team.”
Now Bronchitis for Hill
George Hill can’t catch a break. The Pacers’ point guard hasn’t been 100 percent all season as he’s had to deal with more than his share of injuries.
First it was a sore thumb, then a hip pointer that kept him out the entire preseason. Almost two weeks ago against Phoenix, he sustained a right thigh contusion. Now Hill is under the weather, dealing with bronchitis. He didn’t practice on Thursday and remains day-to-day.
Hill isn’t the only Pacer fighting the flu. Gerald Green had strep throat a couple weeks ago and Lance Stephenson is still fighting it off. Coach Vogel said he’s always keeping tabs on his players hoping to prevent illness from spreading, which isn’t easy when they are constantly around one another.
“I think it’s just going around the country,” Vogel said after practice on Thursday. “All the reports are saying it’s the worst flu season in recent history so it’s just something we got to be cautious of. We’ve got to keep guys away from the team when they’re sick because it can impact you. I’ve seen teams go through devastating stretches because of (illness spreading on the team).
Vogel Elaborates on McGuire’s Role
After Sam Young went down with a severe ankle sprain in practice last week that will keep him out at least a few week, the Pacers waived him and signed free agent Dominic McGuire on Monday to a 10-day contract. He’s tried to learn the Pacers’ sets in a hurry and has been getting extra work in after team practices.
McGuire didn’t play on Wednesday against the Heat, and probably won’t see the court Thursday with the Knicks in town. He said he prepares the same way for each game — as if he’s going to play — because you have to be ready.
“Right now, he’s insurance,” Vogel explained. “We’re going to give the guys we’ve had on roster all season the first opportunity to go out and play. If we have a certain matchup that’s giving us problems, that’s where Dominic comes into play at the small forward spot.”