Notebook: Pacers Feeling Refreshed, Gushing Over George’s All-Star Showing
The Pacers are refreshed following a much-needed, and appreciated, time off. After four-and-a-half days free to spend how they please, the team returned to the hardwood Monday evening to refocus on their plan to finish the season. Heading into the final third of the season – 29 games to go – guys are rejuvenated and ready to get back after it.
With the exception of Danny Granger, who hasn’t played this season, and a nasty flu that went through the locker room, the team has been relatively healthy. They’ve had ankle, shoulder, and thigh issues here and there but nothing that has kept guys out more than a game or two.
Over the last few days, head coach Frank Vogel said he got away from everything and didn’t look at anything basketball-related.
“It was a complete break for me,” Vogel said after Monday’s practice. “A lot of good family time. I took the wife out to dinner and (spent) a lot of time with the kids.”
His players had similar responses.
“It felt good,” Roy Hibbert, who went home to Washington, DC, remarked. “My body got refreshed but now I’m ready to get back to work.”
Lance Stephenson said he just tried to rest and support his teammates while in Houston, tagging along with Paul George and Gerald Green at All-Star weekend.
Vogel was notably excited following practice. There’s a good reason for his optimism. He just wrapped up one of the best post All-Star practices that he said he’s ever been a part of.
“Guys were sharp, guys were enthusiastic… they looked good.”
First up for the team is the New York Knicks, the team that’s 1.5 games ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings. The Pacers won the last meeting, which was in Indy and on national television. From here until mid-April, it’s about upping their play and pushing to the playoffs.
“A lot of teams that make great runs, they do it the second half of their season,” said Paul George. “Hopefully we can do so and peak at the right time heading into the playoffs.
No Return Date Set For Granger
As other players left town for All-Star break, Danny Granger stayed in Indy to continue with rehab on his left knee. He has participated in the past three practices, including two before break, but coach Vogel is noncommittal on when Granger might return.
“Danny practiced, and practiced well today,” Vogel said. “I don’t want him coming back until he feels 100 percent ready and comfortable with it, so he’s still day-to-day.”
His teammates were impressed with the progress they’ve seen and look forward to playing alongside the team’s leading scorer of the past five seasons.
“He looks good,” said George. “His mobility is great. There’s going to be some time before he trusts how hard he can push, but he looks great out there how he’s moving, and he shot like the old 33 we’re used to today.
“He practiced today and looked good,” David West added. “When Danny gets back in the lineup, he’s only going to add to what we’re doing.”
Beaming Over George
Ask around the team, guys were gushing about Paul George’s All-Star debut. As they should be, really. He totaled 17 points, three rebounds, four assists, and two steals in 20 minutes, including the final 2:32 when the East needed points and defensive stops.
“Spectacular,” was the first word that popped into Vogel’s head to describe his breakout player. “He put up 17 points, your first All-Star game, third-year playing in the league, be in there at crunch time, making big threes at crunch time, (he was) special.”
“Ah, man, he played excellent!” Gerald Green said with a grin. “17 points in the first time every being an All-Star. You could just tell this kid is going to be there for many years to come. We’re looking at a star in the making.”
“Paul did a good job, especially for his first appearance,” Stephenson, who was down there with him, said. “After not doing that good in the 3-point contest, he said he’s going to work harder so he can do it next year. That means he’s going to be in the gym shooting better for next year and right now.”
George praised 15-time All-Star Kevin Garnett for providing guidance all weekend. The two had extended conversations in their days together and George said that KG was the one who coached him through everybody.
Following the Sunday’s game – a loss – George was upbeat about his showing and the opportunity he had to play alongside one of his mentors, LeBron James. “He told me don’t stop,” George recalled. “I was talking to him throughout the game, but at the end he told me how bright my future was and don’t stop.”
Green Reluctant To Retire … From Dunk Contests
Gerald Green hyped up his participation in this past weekends slam dunk contest, proclaiming that if successful, one of his dunks may be labeled as one of the best ever. His first round dunk was flawless, taking a pass from Stephenson off the side of the backboard and finishing with a reverse jam.
Then, after cutting down the net, Green attempted to dunk twice in one jump, first with his right hand and then with his left. He tried nearly 10 times and was finally was successful, but his time ran out. Green, who won the dunk contest in 2007, did not advance to the finals.
After the dunk contest ended, he told the gathered media that it was “absolutely” his last dunk contest.
Not so fast.
When asked Monday if that was indeed true, he backed away from those comments. ”I think I might get in it again. I got too much stuff to not let the fans see and I didn’t really get to bring all that stuff out.”
Despite the results, the weekend was particularly special for Green because everything was held in his hometown of Houston, TX, and he was able to spend time with his mom, dad, aunts, uncles, and friends.
As for his finals dunk, involving Stephenson and George, that he never got to a chance to try — Stephenson told Pacers.com that the trio plans to complete it – while recording – on Tuesday for all to see on the web. (Editor’s Note: Nothing yet has been confirmed as of Tuesday morning, 9:53 AM. Stay tuned.)
Two For the Road
+ It’s worth noting that David West said his left eye, which was scratched one week ago by Brook Lopez of the Brooklyn Nets and caused him to miss a game, is doing much better. “I have full vision. We’ll go to the eye doctor to be safe tomorrow, but everything is all right.”
+ Joining George and Green for All-Star weekend may have been one of the best things for third-year guard Lance Stephenson. He has already taken his game to new heights but is now motivated to go even further. ”When I went there, it just made me feel like I gotta make it one year and work harder. That’s what I’m going to do and hopefully I can make it one year.”