Notebook: Urgency for Third Seed, Vogel Tops One Coaching List
The Pacers have two goals in mind heading into Friday’s game, when the Brooklyn Nets come to town. Win, and the Pacers would finish no lower than third in the Eastern Conference.
That’s key, because looking beyond the first round, the four-seed will most likely face the defending champion Miami Heat in the conference semifinals. Every team in the East wants to prolong that matchup if they can help it. Indiana has a three-game lead on Brooklyn and they trail New York by two games (after Chicago ended New York’s 13-game win streak Thursday night). They hope to trim that down with a win over the Nets and by beating the Knicks in New York on Sunday.
“We talk about where New York’s at and where Brooklyn’s at almost every day,” Frank Vogel said after an offensive-based practice Thursday. “We know Brooklyn is going to be out to try and get the third seed. They want to keep their chances alive … We want it too.”
Added veteran David West: “We know it’s in our court. When it comes down to it, we’ve tried to handle our business all year so his is another opportunity.”
The other goal: Not allow the Nets, who’ve won the two previous meetings, to sweep the season series. That would provide them with a mental edge should they play again in the playoffs, and be discouraging for the Pacers as they play in New York and Boston next, before concluding the regular season at home on Wednesday.
In the first meeting against the new-look Nets, the Pacers shot 42 percent but were outscored 28-11 in the final period as they went 3-of-22 from the floor. The next time around, missed attempts were a problem all game long. They made 34 percent of their shots, yet only lost by five; Paul George and David West were a combined 3-of-21. Over the last three games, George’s offensive game was lacking, until he scored 11 points in the fourth quarter of Tuesday’s win.
“I hope I’m back to where I want to be,” George said. “I slipped a little bit. I think that fourth quarter kind of rejuvenated me to where I know that ball can go in now. I’m ready. It’s the end of the season, so it’s a perfect time for me to try and tighten things up.”
The Pacers have four games – three vs. playoff teams – remaining until the playoffs begin, their third-consecutive year taking part in postseason play. Beginning with the Nets, who are riding a three-game win streak, getting back to their principles on defense will be key. It was missing until the last nine minutes of last game.
In Brooklyn’s last nine victories, they’ve scored at least 100 points. They can beat you from the wing, with Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, or inside with Brook Lopez, who leads the team in scoring (19.4 ppg) and tallied 25 points in their last meeting.
After winning five games in a row, the Pacers hit a lull last week. It is Vogel’s hope that their nearly impossible fourth quarter comeback on Tuesday can propel them forward for the rest of the year.
“I hope our guys are taking it as a momentum-changing run,” he said. “When you’re struggling, sometimes you need something like that – something a little bit crazy – to happen to shift the momentum of what your team is doing.”
Vogel Leads All Coaches … in Technicals
You wouldn’t know it by his demeanor, or from watching him on the sidelines. But Pacers coach Frank Vogel leads all NBA coaches in technicals fouls accrued this season. With nine, two coming from last game alone, Vogel has two more than Denver’s George Karl and Boston’s Doc Rivers.
When I told him after practice, he was as shocked as anyone. “Do I really?” he replied.
So was David West: “Really? That’s pretty surprising. He’s usually mild-mannered. He’s feisty, but doesn’t say much.”
“He wanted to show some passion and he wanted that to infect our team because we were playing lackluster up until that point,” said Associate Head Coach Brian Shaw, who directed the team for the final 14:05 of Tuesday’s win. “It served its purpose.”
Vogel’s kids, who often sit first row behind the scorer’s table in the first half of home games, were not at the game but his wife was. She covered her eyes as her husband was tossed for just the second time in his young career.
And her reaction: “Money well spent,” Vogel recalled. “She was happy we got the win.”
Those nine technical fouls have deducted $22,000 from his paycheck.
Trying Something New
During the 30 minutes or so of practice that the media was allowed to watch, the Pacers spent most of that time working to prevent the small forward from getting the ball in a post-up situation. They talked about how to defend it, how to keep from fouling and communicating the calls. Coach Vogel said that work benefits them come playoff time, as well as in their next two games when they face Joe Johnson (Friday), Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith (New York).
“Offensively, it always disrupts us,” Vogel explained. “It’s something I’ve had in my mind as a way to grow our defensive package.”
Ian Mahinmi (stomach bug) didn’t practice. George Hill reaggravated his groin and was pulled out of practice. Coach Vogel believes both will be okay for Friday’s game.