Tag: Pacers

Hump Day Hoops- Homecourt Hype

 

Astonishingly, the Pacers still have a chance to ‘salvage’ this regular season by going on a roll over the last week of the season. (It’s not an accident that Frank Vogel is resting his starters against the Bucks, not the Heat.) Miami has played so inconsistently that they may well follow up last night’s Nets loss with another tonight against the Grizzlies then a third against the Pacers. At the moment, none of those three losses would constitute a shock. The Grizz and Pacers are big enough to have permanent matchup advantages in the paint and, with no Dwyane Wade, in most of the backcourts the Heat trot out. The Pacers might still capture the number one seed in the East.

 

That possibility misses the bigger point the Pacers (and their fans) have misunderstood all year long. Regular season primacy is not critical! The Pacers didn’t lose the Eastern Conference Finals on a last second shot or because of a controversial call. This wasn’t Hue Hollins giving Scottie Pippen the business back in the day. The Pacers got smoked!! I mean, David West left the court in a huff not just because he was mad but also because he was embarrassed.

 

The Heat were clearly better. Their epic second quarter would have overwhelmed the Pacers if the game were in Hinkle with Norman Dale patrolling the sidelines. Nothing about that Game 7 should indicate that the building was a critical factor.

 

During last year’s playoff run the Pacers did very well on the road and missed critical opportunities there. In the ECF, the Heat and Pacers alternated wins throughout. Game 1 was the infamous ‘Where’s Roy?’ game. That was the golden moment the Pacers missed; at the start of the series, not the end.

 

The Pacers didn’t have homecourt against the Knicks but they stole it by winning Game 1. Taking that edge against a veteran laden team brushed away the taste of the too long Atlanta series and gave the Pacers a real belief they could be special last year. That’s the key thing! The Pacers knew they could beat the Knicks. Then they went out and proved it.

 

Proving it is always the tough part. I’m convinced that the Pacers season long obsession with homecourt advantage was an act of collective denial. They wanted to be the best team in the East and wanted to make the Finals and wanted to prove that folks like me screaming ‘too soon, too soon’ were wrong. The Pacers wanted those things to be true but I’m not sure they ever believed them.

 

Being desperate to ensure a 7th game against Miami would be played in the Fieldhouse has sounded to many of us like a problem. At best, it’s a need based opportunity. The Pacers feel they need homecourt to have an opportunity against the Heat. Homecourt is an advantage not a determinant and the Pacers own shared experience means they understand that fact. Arguing that homecourt is critical only until March has come in like a lion and gone out like a Godzilla doesn’t fool anyone. It simply reminds us how odd this particular obsession has been.

 

All that being said, if this wacky season ends with the Pacers and Heat in a frantic race for the top spot, I will feel better about the playoffs. Not because of homecourt but because it would indicate the Pacers were actually playing well. Playing great basketball is the reason teams win titles, not their arenas and fans. Now is the perfect time to remember that.

 

 

Franklin Oliver

 

 

© Gayle Force Press 2014

 

 

Hump Day Hoops-The Blue and Gold Iceberg

A good friend has encouraged me to recognize that the Pacers have hit a giant iceberg. He might be right. My hope is that it's a daylight iceberg. Once seen, a course correction can ensue. Even though you may have to take the long way around, you can still arrive at the destination. That may be the best Pacer fans can hope for.

 

I’ve been thinking about why the Pacers are in such a state of crisis and the best I can come up with is pretty simple. This is only the second year the Pacers have been good. That’s not usually a bad thing but because of last season’s great playoff run, this year’s early season success and the faltering of the Bulls, Nets and Knicks, the Pacers have ascended to contender status a year too soon. They just weren’t ready for it.

 

This is supposed to be the growing pain season when teams figure out how to shift from being the hunter to being the hunted but it’s extremely hard to go through growing pains when also being under the championship microscope. Ask Miami. Their growing pains at the start of the Big 3 era were obvious and very public. The biggest differences between the two squads are critical. The Heat had two of the five best players in the world and starred three guys who were very accustomed to massive amounts of attention.

 

The Heat bumbled and stumbled to the NBA Finals three years ago despite never being a dominant team. They simply had enough talent to overcome the hurdle of outsized expectations. They couldn’t figure out a rotation or a pecking order but they managed to survive the East playoffs because LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were all top 20 players. When they figured out a pecking order, how to handle media scrutiny the next season and how to use their exceptional talent, they dominated.

 

The Pacers still want to play without a pecking order and have almost no experience with intense media attention. The pecking order will shake out in the playoffs when matchup advantages become obvious but amazingly, I’d guess that Lance Stephenson is the Pacer who has been a ‘high profile’ guy the longest. “Born Ready” got the Big Apple spotlight as a high school standout but none of the other Pacers had that kind of attention, even in college. Now that professional (and importantly, personal) foibles are being scrutinized intensely, everything changes. Paul George has an awesome new television commercial. That doesn’t mean he has a support network in place to help him navigate these new waters.

 

That goes for the Pacers as a whole. These championship waters are new and the Pacers probably shouldn’t be in them yet. They simply don't have the kind of exceptional talent Miami did when they went throught their growing pains.  I think it's clear that this team dramatically overachieved in the first half of the season. That’s what led to the spoiling of the fan base I mentioned last week.

 

This season the Pacers have been Portland East in some respects. They overachieved so much so early that expectations were raised to surprising heights. Each team's player profile is also similar. Both teams have a marginal top 10 guy, a marginal top 25 guy and 2 marginal top 50 guys. Solid playoff teams to be sure. But that doesn’t sound like a champion’s profile does it?* Do any Pacers fans really anticipate that the Trail Blazers will make the Finals this year?

 

We shouldn’t realistically expect the pacers to be champs this year but lots of us do. My hope is that the Pacers use the next month to figure out where they need to fix the relationships and scoring issues that seem so obviously problematic.

 

Against the Spurs, they played timidly. As though they were afraid to shoot and hurt each other's feelings. Playing not to lose instead of playing to win. I’d guess that the media attention is an element of this; no one wants to be “selfish”. But part of that stems from the low pace, high efficiency offense Vogel prefers. One guy missing 3 shots in a quarter is a big deal when there are only 18 shots are taken in the whole quarter. 

 

On the Evan Turner/Danny Granger issue, I think Vogel should experiment with ET starting at the 3 with Lance coming off the bench. That would give the Pacers a giant lineup capable of covering up some of ET’s defensive lapses. Turner would also have a chance to pick up some offensive scraps off double teams of the other guys. He just can't create offense without taking 8 dribbles. As a 5th option in the starting lineup, he won't need to. Then Lance can come in and be the primary catalyst for the 2nd unit. Bringing Lance in with 3 minutes left in the 1st quarter and halfway through the 3rd means the Pacers would never rely on Turner or CJ Watson or Donald Sloan to initiate their offense.

 

 

One last thing: Entering the playoffs as the second seed may be the best thing to happen to the Pacers. They don't know how to be front runners because they haven't done it before. In last year’s playoffs they had the element of surprise and that freed them up to play loosely. Now that advantage has gone out the window. I'd love to see them replace it with hunger. 

 

 

Franklin Oliver

 

*The champions with a player profile closest to these Pacers has probably been the Spurs but we can all acknowledge that the Spurs have been an aberration in nearly every way.

 

 

© Gayle Force Press 2014

 

 

 

Mt. Hibbert Explodes!

 

A friend of mine mentioned that since Roy Hibbert’s press
conference Saturday, he’s now rooting for the Heat. That started me thinking
about what Hibbert was actually aiming for in that presser. 

 

 

I must admit that I've always been perplexed by "no
homo". That phrase is often used in ways that are totally nonsensical.
There’s an interesting Slate article
from a few years ago that describes some of the curious ways it functions in
rap music. For Hibbert to have used “no homo” seemed like acting out as part of
a broader attempt to be tough. The same is true of his calling the reports
"motherfuckers". They both sounded false coming from him. (It verges
on funny to watch Hibbert consider whether to actually say “motherfucker” or
not. I immediately had flashbacks to middle school.)

 

 

Let’s face it, Hibbert is just not a 'street' guy.
Particularly in Indiana in the decade long aftermath of the ‘Malice in the
Palace’, NOT being a street guy is part of why Mt. Hibbert is widely beloved. He’s
one of the faces of the Pacers franchise and in a world wherein Wilt
Chamberlain could believe, “Nobody loves Goliath,” Hibbert’s kindness, charity,
quick smile and obvious love for his family have made him an important
exception to the rule. We Hoosiers love our Goliath. 

 

 

That’s part of what was so jarring about Saturday night. The
eyes of the nation are rarely on the Hoosier State where the NBA is concerned.
The Pacers have been the most important, positive surprise of the playoffs but
Saturday’s after game was a deeply unpleasant, unanticipated surprise. The
contrasts between the press conference and Hibbert’s immediate postgame
interview were shocking. It seems clear that Hibbert’s 'Happy Birthday Dad' hokum
was authentic. The badass wannabe posing he did on the dais wasn’t. Thank
goodness.  

 

 

Of course, it’s always hard to balance who you are and who
you are expected to be, isn’t it? I imagine that’s particularly true on big
stages with bright lights. I’m pleased that David Stern pulled some charity
cash out of Hibbert’s pockets. My hope is that Saturday night will serve as
another clear reminder that the world continues to change and we all need to change
along with it. 

 

 

FDO