Indiana Pacers Show Promise under Interim Coach Frank Vogel

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The Indiana Pacers didn’t quite make it to 5-0 under interim coach Frank Vogel on Tuesday in a 117-112 loss to the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena.

However, the team did make it five-in-a-row to spark optimism and hope in Indiana for the remainder of the 2010-11 season.

Since firing former coach Jim O’Brien and replacing him with Vogel on Jan. 30, the Pacers have shown significant improvement in play and have appeared more comfortable on the court. Watching the team Tuesday, the players sincerely appeared to be having fun and sporting a newfound confidence and swagger against one of the Eastern Conference’s elite teams whom the Pacers previously beat 93-77 on Nov. 22 in the same building.

By Drew Allen

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Granted, before Tuesday’s contest at Miami, Vogel’s first four opponents were the Toronto Raptors, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Portland Trail Blazers and the New Jersey Nets. It wasn’t unrealistic to expect Indiana to beat each of those teams, though one might wonder if the team might have dropped one of those matchups under O’Brien. The Cleveland game comes to mind when speculating on that scenario; the Pacers nearly became “that team” before avoiding ending the Cavaliers’ losing streak with a 117-112 victory.

For the most part, though, the vibe one gets from Vogel’s leadership to this point is positive. Indiana has looked better and much more like the team that was hanging around .500 at the beginning of the year.

Specifically?

  • Consistent rotation. While O’Brien would mix players in his rotations seemingly on a nightly basis, Vogel has deployed more or less the same guys at the same times in each of his five games as interim coach. We now can expect to see the typical starting lineup of Roy Hibbert, Josh McRoberts, Danny Granger, Mike Dunleavy and Darren Collison play deep into the first quarter barring injury or foul trouble. Tyler Hansbrough, Dahntay Jones and Paul George will be the first players off the bench, and Jeff Foster and A.J. Price see time at the beginning of the second period. Indiana repeats this process during the third and fourth quarters, and that’s it. Understanding their roles undoubtedly has made the players more comfortable.
  • Established frontcourt presence. Yes, we’re talking about the frontcourt of the Pacers, a team that has lived and died by the 3-pointer for much of recent memory. Vogel has remained true to his word that McRoberts and Hansbrough would own the power forward spot, and both have impressed in games under their new coach. McRoberts has been good for 7.6 points and six rebounds in split time, and Hansbrough has been sensational off the bench, scoring in double digits in all but one of Indiana’s last five games. Meanwhile, Hibbert appears to have put his winter slump far behind him at center, earning three double-doubles in the last five contests while leading the Pacers in scoring in two of those games, including Tuesday’s affair with the Heat.
  • Stingier defense. Vogel might be getting his team to do what his former boss O’Brien never could: play defense. Indiana held the Raptors, the Trail Blazers and the Nets under 100 points and kept the latter two under 90. What is more convincing, however, is that each of those games has been a double-digit win for the Pacers; the team beat New Jersey by 19. In addition, the players showed a couple of flashes Tuesday in guarding the rim against the likes of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in the second half despite allowing James 41 points and multiple dunks.
  • Re-emergence of Dahntay Jones. After signing a four-year contract in the summer of 2009, Jones saw limited action in his first year-and-a-half in Indiana, apparently not fitting into O’Brien’s system. Vogel has reincorporated Jones into the lineup, and the move has paid dividends to this point. Not only has the former Duke standout contributed to the Pacers’ newfound defensive effort with a steal in each of the last three games, but Jones also has become another solid scoring option, leading the team with 18 points against New Jersey and scoring 11 on Tuesday.

The only visible concerns Vogel’s Pacers have displayed are a tendency to turn the ball over too much and a habit of allowing long scoring runs by opponents. The latter was on display Tuesday as the Heat went on an 11-0 run at the end of the first half to erase a 14-point deficit and then scored 15 fourth-quarter points after trailing by as many as 13 in the second half.

Other than that, all seems OK in Pacer Nation right now.

Indiana’s next contest comes at 7 p.m. today at Conseco Fieldhouse against the Charlotte Bobcats, the team with whom the Pacers are currently vying for eighth place in the East. A win not only would improve Vogel’s record to 5-1, but it also would position Indiana quite nicely for a run at a playoff berth.

Comments

  1. Nice article, you beat me to it as I was going to write about the same thing. I like all of the points you made and completely agree.

    How bout their win versus the Bobcats, exciting stuff!

    They are really starting to shoot the ball WELL in the first half of games, they look pretty good at times!

    Hibbert looks like a beast under Vogel as well! I definitely can sense a Hibbert story in the near future!

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