In The Scrum With Frank Vogel

Frank Vogel talked with the media in Toronto about why his team doesn’t get enough respect from casual basketball fans, Paul George taking another big step forward this season, why the team is slowly bringing Danny Granger back, Lance Stephenson being a candidate for Most Improved Player this season and how rewarding it has been to see his young players grow the past few seasons.

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In The Scrum With John Wall

Washington Wizards star guard John Wall has been on fire as of late. After scoring 37 points to lead the Wizards to a 104-85 over the Indiana Pacers, Wall talked about his confidence and some of the emotion he shows while he’s on the court. Wall believes “When you’re feeling good, you’re playing good”  and it showed tonight as he went 16-25 from the field.


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Pacers Have A Chip On Their Shoulders

Last season the Indiana Pacers were coming off a season in which they barely sneaked into the playoffs. Then, during a rushed period of free agency following the lockout, they weren’t able to steal many headlines aside from their addition of David West. Because of that, the Pacers were able to fly under the radar and didn’t have high expectations pegged on them from members of the media and casual basketball fans.

In many aspects, the Pacers were a forgotten team heading into last season compared to the inflated expectations following marque teams in the Eastern Conference like the Miami Heat, Boston Celtics and New York Knicks.

Despite having a successful season, it appears this expectations are low once again this season by most members of the media and fans outside of Indiana.

Still, the players in the Pacers locker room are excited about this season and what the team should be able to accomplish. They are relishing the fact they are underdogs and fans are writing them off as eventual playoff casualties to the Heat or Celtics.

“We need to continue to play with that chip on our shoulder,” George Hill boasted. “Last year we went to the playoffs and we had a good run, but we still didn’t reach the goal that we wanted to reach and that’s win an NBA title. For people to not count us as one of the East’s elite? That’s what we want. We want to fly under the radar because we have unfinished business from last season.”

Hill isn’t the only Pacer with a chip on his shoulder. Paul George – a player who many pundits feel will eventually be named the NBA’s most improved player this season – has a chance to take another big step forward this season and relishes the chance to prove his critics wrong.

“It is something that motivates you because we finished third in our conference and we were only something like four games behind Miami,” George said. “Then we gave Miami a run in the playoffs. It definitely puts a chip on our shoulders that we still aren’t getting respect.”

Respect is something that is earned by winning playoff series and going deep into the playoffs. Sure, some teams like the New York Knicks or Brooklyn Nets are able to stay relevant and garner countless headlines due to flashy additions, but teams need to earn respect by marching deep into the playoffs on a consistent basis.

Indiana’s head coach, Frank Vogel, realizes his team can’t get too cocky after one season, however he feels that the team is ready to build on what they started last season.

“I think we come into this season believing we are one of the best teams in the league opposed to last season where we spent the year building that belief and that confidence in ourselves,” Vogel said. “Last year in the playoffs we saw we could compete with the eventual champions, the Miami Heat, and that just helped us in the offseason and carrying into this season by giving us a great deal of confidence.”

Last year the Pacers flashed glimpsed of their potential during the regular and they finished with the third best record in the Eastern Conference. They were able to secure a 2-1 lead in their second round series against the Miami Heat before succumbing to the eventual NBA Champions in a tough-fought six game series.

Even with Danny Granger showing signs of regression last season – something most people expect him to regroup from this season once he is healthy – the rest of the team’s core of Roy Hibbert, David West, George and Hill all had strong individual seasons.

The team got a bit of a scare this week when it was announced the Granger would miss time due to an injury issue, but, even without the face of the franchise, the Pacers have enough depth and veteran leadership to sustain the team during his absence.

“We are still a beast of a team,” Vogel said about the absence of Granger. “We’ve still got all-stars at a bunch of positions. George (Hill) is going to be an all-star at the point guard spot by the time his career is over while David West and Roy (Hibbert) have both been all-stars. We think Paul George is going to be an all-star at some point and Gerald Green has been a pleasant surprise. He is going to step into the starting small forward spot for Danny Granger and he is going to give us a scoring punch and he has given us great energy on the defensive end.”

This summer the Pacers were able to re-sign their All-Star big man Roy Hibbert while making some subtle tweaks to improve their roster. Additions like DJ Augustin, Miles Plumlee, Gerald Green and Ian Mahinmi weren’t sexy moves, but they were smart moves that filled needs and managed to bolster their roster.

This season the Pacers just need to continue to build on how they finished last season.

“The last month of the season we started smacking teams around,” Vogel boasted. “When we moved George Hill to our starting point guard that starting unit, every time they stepped on the court, was dominating everybody they faced. Whether it was the Miami Heat or anybody else. Our bench wasn’t and we made some upgrades to the bench this summer.”

With the Eastern Conference up for grabs, the Pacers look to once again be one of the top teams in the conference. It will be interesting to see if they continue their ascent in the conference of if injuries and other issues cause them to stumble.

Time will tell if the Pacers are truly one of the beasts in their conference or if the critics were right.

Catching Up With Frank Vogel

Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel talked with me about his team entering this season with high expectations, getting through an injury to Danny Granger and what the team learned from the loss last season to the Miami Heat in the playoffs.

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Eastern Conference Preview

Up until this past summer, few things were as certain in the NBA as the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Any observer worth their salt knew that Orlando would probably secure themselves home court advantage in round one with a No. 3 or 4 seed and that Atlanta would find their way into that good-but-not-elite middle ground, likely winding up on either side of the 4/5 match-up.

Then came a turbulent off-season that saw Dwight Howard ditch Disney World for Disney Land and Joe Johnson get sent packing, alongside his mammoth contract, to Brooklyn in exchange for a pile of warm bodies. The fallout from the pair of Southeast division mega-moves will likely see the Magic fade to also-ran status, with the potential of the Josh Smith-led Hawks still very much to be determined.

So who steps in to fill the void?

Indiana Pacers

The deep roster that propelled them back towards relevance remains mostly in tact, save for a slight downgrade at the point with Darren Collison (traded to Dallas for Ian Mahinmi) out and free agent signee D.J. Augustin in. Still, another year’s maturation for Paul George and Roy “Gangnam Style” Hibbert will help a club that still managed 42 wins last year in a 66-game season against what was a more top-heavy East.

Philadelphia 76ers
I can’t figure out why there isn’t more talk about this young Philly team that made the Conference’s biggest addition by trading for Andrew Bynum. It cost them long-time face of the franchise AI, but the two-way veteran is a small price to pay for the league’s second best center. Beyond Bynum lies the rest of a potential-laden core (Jrue Holliday, Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young) supported by complementary incoming veterans (Jason Richardson, Nick Young).

Chicago Bulls
The Bulls’ presence on this list, which would have been perceived as an unimaginable slight at this time last year, speaks volumes of the value of Derrick Rose. With a healthy Rose, Chicago would be a lock for a top three seed. Without him, the team faces plenty of questions as to whether it can simply tread water while awaiting the return of their point guard (likely around February). Can Kirk Hinrich balance the offense? Can Luol Deng or Carlos Boozer take charge as leading scorers?

Atlanta Hawks
A salary dump usually coincides with a drop down the standings. However, credit Hawks GM Danny Ferry with not only keeping the rest of a productive core (Smith, Al Horford), but bolstering it with some savvy additions to offset the loss of Johnson. The signing of Lou Williams helps address the scoring void in the back court, while acquiring Devin Harris from Utah for Marvin Williams creates depth at the point alongside Jeff Teague. The club also quickly accounted for the loss in outside shooting from the Johnson trade, bringing in veteran shooters Kyle Korver and Anthony Morrow and will find minutes for rookie marksman John Jenkins. One more thought: are we sure that Johnson is actually that good?

New York Knicks
All the stories gleefully talking about the Knicks and their historically old roster are missing the point. Truth is, all of Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby, Kurt Thomas and Pablo Prigoni could wind up showing their age and flopping in NYC – and this team could STILL be a top four seed. This team will go as far as Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler (and, strange as it sounds, Ray Felton) take them – no more, no less.

Brooklyn Nets
The addition of Joe Johnson could easily be costly in the long term, but that’s not the concern of Mikhail Prokhorov and the Nets for now. Heading into their first season in Brooklyn, the club boasts a defensively porous high-priced star-laden back court, but could struggle when it comes to getting stops and securing critical rebounds. Still, those in attendance at the Barclays Center likely have playoff dates to look forward to.

Quick omission explanation: Miami and Boston are too good, whereas I don’t see any of Toronto, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Detroit, Charlotte, Washington or Orlando being in the mix.

In The Scrum With David West

David West talks about his disappointment with Game 1, Indiana’s strong response in the third quarter, he tries to explain why it takes until the third quarter for the team to get rolling, his passion setting a ton for his teammates and why Indiana still needs to play with a sense of urgency.

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West Leads Pacers To Game 2 Win

A dominating third quarter performance helped the Indiana Pacers pick up a 93-78 Game 2 victory over the Orlando Magic to even the series at 1-1. Indiana outscored Orlando 30-13 in the quarter, including 13 second chance points.

“I thought we did a good job of making some adjustments in the locker room,” Pacers power forward David West said following the game. “As a group, we just have to be aggressive. Ultimately, that’s what carried us tonight.”

West, an eight-year veteran, was one of three Pacers to score 18 points. The former All-Star also hauled down 11 rebounds and dished out a game-high four assists. West recorded four of his 11 boards in the third quarter as the Pacers outrebounded Orlando 16-4. During the regular season, Indiana was one of the best third quarter teams in the league, ranking second behind Philadelphia in third quarter margin at +2.8 points.

“I thought we were more ourselves in terms of the tempo and aggressiveness level of each individual guy,” West added.

47 of the Pacers 93 points were a result of second chance opportunities or fast breaks.

“A lot of it is that our starters are coming out of the locker room with nothing in terms of energy,” Orlando head coach Stan Van Gundy said following the loss. “They beat us with their effort and energy tonight and that’s not acceptable.”

Indiana head coach Frank Vogel accredits his team’s high energy level and aggressiveness to West, who the Pacers signed as a free agent in the offseason.

“He’s leading our team right now in competitive spirit, will and desire, and those are things that don’t show up in a box score,” Vogel said. “He’s a playoff tested veteran and we are hopeful that he is going to lead us very far in these playoffs.”

West advanced to the postseason four times during his eight years with the New Orleans Hornets and understands the Pacers can’t become complacent after the commanding win.

“There’s room for us to improve,” West said. “I think we just need to come out focused. It’s going to be a tough environment down there in Florida.”

Game 3 will be played on Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. EST in Orlando.