Apologies for not having posted after the last two Pacers wins -- a come from behind 116-105 victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves at home (thanks to Dahntay Jones's 19 points in the fourth quarter) and a well-earned 103-97 victory against nemesis Milwaukee Bucks (who had beaten the Pacers twice already this season including that Bogut buzzer tip in).
That makes it 7-1 in the Frank Vogel era as the Pacers improve to 24-28 -- making them one full game behind Philadelphia (7th) and two full games ahead of the Charlotte Bobcats (9th).
The Pacers have been making plenty of mistakes during this streak, allowed teams to come back, turned the ball over on crucial possessions, missed lots of head scratching free throws -- and yet they continue to play with confidence and continue to win.
As Danny Granger said, they are now playing to their strengths. They are using Hibbert down low, using the physicality of Hansbrough and Foster, the athleticism of McRoberts, the penetration of Collison, and the shooting of Granger and Dunleavy.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves just yet like we did earlier in the season when the Pacers were on fire. We're not even at the All-Star break yet.
Looking ahead, a tough home game against the Miami Heat, a team the Pacers really should have beaten again in Miami last week before some vintage Lebron James brought them all the way back from a double digit deficit. This time I still don't expect the Pacers to win, but I expect them to compete and have a decent chance.
Win or lose, the next few games are key: @Detroit, @Washington, Detroit -- three more winnable games. But then the road gets tougher, and it's a stretch that can either push the Pacers over the hump or throw them back down in the dumps again -- Utah, Phoenix, Golden State, @Oklahoma City, @Dallas, @Houston, Philadelphia. Huge, huge stretch for the Pacers. If they can win win three out of four against the Heat, Pistons and Wizards, and then be 4-3 after that, they'll be in a good spot.
Another game that really shouldn't have been this close, but a win is a win. And it's a big one. The Indiana Pacers were very fortunate to come away with a 104-103 victory against the Charlotte Bobcats after again squandering almost all of their double digit lead in the 4th quarter.
Roy Hibbert continued his strong play of late to finish with a career high tying 29 points to go with 10 rebounds. Danny Granger had 25, Darren Collison had 15, and Josh McRoberts finished with 12 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists.
This was a perfect opportunity for the Pacers to come out flat against a heartbreaking loss against the Heat the night before, but again they played strong and hard all night. It's just that come 4th quarter time they tend to tense up and keeping turning the ball over or taking bad shots. It wasn't just one guy either -- they were all equally to blame.
Fortunately, the Bobcats missed one out of two free throws and the Pacers made both of theirs to give them a one point lead. When Collison missed a pull up jumper with just a few seconds to go, ex-Pacer Stephen Jackson raced up the court instead of calling a time out, and tried to draw a foul from Collison by jumping into him on a 30 footer at the buzzer.
No call, and the Pacers escape with the win.
With the victory, the Pacers now hold the 8th and final playoff spot in the East outright, and it also gave them a series win against the Bobcats in case a tiebreaker is needed. I don't think they can catch the Knicks, but if the Pacers keep this up there's no reason why they can't overtake the 76ers and take the 7th seed.
Next up, another winnable game -- the Minnesota Timberwolves. Better keep an eye on Kevin Love.
For all intents and purposes, these Indiana Pacers had no right challenging the Miami Heat in South Beach. Let's face it. As well as they have been playing against lesser teams recently, no one expected the Pacers to have much of a shot against an almost full strength Heat squad on a 6-game winning streak. This was supposed to be their reality check.
But for most of their 117-112 loss, the Pacers were just as good, if not better than their superstar studded rivals. They played extremely hard against a team miles ahead of them in talent, attacking every play and never giving up. The fact that they thought they had a chance, and the fact that they had a great chance, speaks volumes about how far this team has come since Jim O'Brien was fired. And it was terrific to see how disappointed the team was about losing such a close game. They could have been happy to have pushed a contender this far. But no. There are no moral victories for a team struggling to stay in the playoff race.
This was not the same Miami team the Pacers beat earlier in the year. This Miami team was clicking on all cylinders and looking to avenge that earlier loss in the season. And it took a vintage Lebron James effort -- 41 points, 13 rebounds and 8 assists -- including some massive baskets down the stretch -- and a few mental lapses by the Pacers (Danny Granger being blown by when isolated, leading to Roy Hibbert fouling out; and Dahntay Jones's 5-second inbound violation with a chance to tie) for Miami to escape with the win.
Pacers fans must be excited after this game even though it was a loss. 20 and 10 for Hibbert. 19 for Granger. 18 for Hansbrough. 15 and 8 for Collison. They can hold their heads up high.
And as big as this game was, tomorrow's is even bigger. A home game against the Charlotte Bobcats, who are currently half a game ahead of the Pacers for the 8th and final playoff spot in the East. Bring it on.
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.
Don't want to get ahead of ourselves here, Pacers fans, but there is hope that this team could make the playoffs this year. New coach Frank Vogel is confident they will after a gutsy 100-87 home win over the banged up Portland Trailblazers -- the Pacers' third in a row (the first time this season).
Wins over Toronto and Cleveland were expected, but now Vogel finally has a win over a quality team, even if they have been struggling with injuries. However, it's the way these new Pacers have been playing that has me excited.
Darren Collison (11 points, 7 assists) and AJ Price (7 points) are playing with more freedom and we're seeing their confidence and aggression grow with every game. Tyler Hansbrough (13 points, 8 rebounds) and Paul George (6 points, 4 rebounds) are getting playing time and making the most of it. Roy Hibbert (15 points, 6 rebounds) is finally playing with confidence again. And even Danny Granger is starting to feel more comfortable by taking better shots -- he led the way with 25 points and 9 boards today.
The problem with Jim O'Brien was that he kept the players in the dark with his bizarre rotations. Sure, the players have been professional and have been ready, but mentally, not knowing whether you'll play or how much you'll play game-to-game must have affected them. Furthermore, players were too afraid of making mistakes because it meant O'Brien would toss them on the bench (or inactive list), but all that did was limit the minutes of the young guys, while the veterans continued to make the same mistakes, or worse.
Vogel is giving the players new life by infusing them with confidence again. The young guys are given the green light to go out there and do their thing, and even if they make mistakes they'll get to keep playing. And as a result, the team is playing hard and they are playing to their strengths. They're getting good shots by dumping the ball low to Hibbert, setting screens and using the pick an roll. Plus they're running whenever they get the chance.
The defense is also getting better. Players are helping each other out, closing in on big guys in the post and closing out on shooters on the wing. Of course, Portland missed a lot of open shots today, but the Pacers also contested a lot of others.
The Pacers are now 20-27, and are only percentage points behind Charlotte for the 8th and final playoff spot in the East. They have a great chance right now to make a push.
Next up is the New Jersey Nets (road game) which the Pacers can and should win if they play like they did today. After that, all the games until Feb 25 should be winnable with the exception of two games against the Heat (Charlotte, Minnesota, Milwaukee, Washington and Detroit twice).