These Indiana Pacers have been 'Vogelized'. Interim coach Frank Vogel has brought new life to the formerly struggling team as they won their 4th in a row, a comfortable 105-86 victory over the New Jersey Nets. One of the two Indiana's Jones (lame joke I picked up from the announcers), Dahntay (the other being Solomon), top scored with 18 points in his return to his hometown.
The naysayers will point out that 3 of the 4 wins in this season high 4-game winning streak were against bottom of the ladder teams (Toronto, Cleveland and New Jersey), and the other one was against a banged up team (Portland) at home.
But it's not just the wins that have Pacers fans excited. It's the WAY the Pacers have been playing. Even a blind man can tell that these Pacers are more confident, are playing looser, and covering each other's backs out there. They're fighting, hustling and playing with a better idea of what is expected of them, something we hadn't seen for a while.
Nothing against fired coach Jim O'Brien, but this change was necessary.
Sure, wins were in games the Pacers ought to be winning (maybe with the exception of Portland), but don't forget, the wins against Cleveland and Jersey were on the road, and winning road games is something the Pacers have struggled with for years. And even though everyone was high on the Pacers after their road wins over Miami and the Lakers earlier in the season, that team never won 3 games in a row. Vogel's Pacers are 4 and counting.
The players aren't saying it out loud, but they are glad that O'Brien (as much as they respected and liked him) is gone.
Dahntay Jones: "He always has positive things to say. He tries to make you feel special. He's giving a lot of guys confidence. There's a huge parallel between him and Doc [Rivers] in terms of personality and love of the game. It's a good quality to have in a coach. He keeps our heads up. What Frank is doing is making sure that every day starts with a compliment and that's what we need."
Josh McRoberts: "I think everyone is a little more loose now and we're doing different things. I have a lot of respect for Coach O'Brien, but maybe sometimes change loosens things up. We now have a little bit more of a rotation and that's working."
Roy Hibbert: "We're close knit. We're allowed to make changes and adjustments in the game. Coach will ask for our advice in timeouts."
Darren Collison: "I feel like we didn't really believe in ourselves (earlier in the season), and now we're starting to believe we can come together as a team and win ballgames."
Tyler Hansbrough: “It was frustrating because you didn’t know what was going to happen. You didn’t know how to prepare. It was one of those things where if I wasn’t going to play, I wish I knew...It’s going to be fun now. Now I know how to prepare for each game. There’s no more guessing. I can be mentally and physically ready instead of not knowing and being out in the dark.”
As for Vogel, he has had some very bold things to say:
"We're changing the identity of our basketball team dramatically. We're a power-post team, blood and guts, old-school-smash-mouth team...No matter who we play, if we're up 20, down 20 or tied, we're going to keep coming after them. This is a new team, a new beginning. This is going to be a special end of the year. Jump on board. Come out and see us...When we get in the playoffs, in that final week or two of the season, all the one seeds, Boston, Miami, or Orlando -- they're not going to want to play this basketball team."
That said, the honeymoon doesn't look like it will extend beyond 4 games because the next opponent the Pacers have to play is the full strength Miami Heat, in Miami. Sure, the Pacers beat them earlier this season, but this is a very different Miami team. Doesn't matter. As long as the Pacers beat the teams they are supposed to beat (which didn't always happen under O'Brien) and compete with the teams they're supposed to lose to, they'll be fine.