Vogel stresses "habits over homecourt advantage"

April 11, 2012 -- On the big board in the locker room, Frank Vogel wrote this message for his players:

"Habits over homecourt advantage."

Not that the Pacers don't value protecting the third seed, but the coach would prefer his team be playing at its peak heading into the postseason.

"Our goal is, yes, to get homecourt advantage but more importantly over the last nine games is we've got to continue to play every possession building championship-level habits if we want to go deep in the playoffs," he said. "That's what this stretch run is about. It's not about seeding, it's not about homecourt advantage, it's about improving, building something that is going to hold up in a tight playoff series."

Such as?

"Everything they've been taught since they were in second grade," he said. "Boxing out, keeping your man in front of you, making the extra pass, screening, using screens, everything that goes into execution. Floor balance in transition defense, knowing the plays, all the little details that go into executing and winning basketball."

Not sure who Vogel thinks is coaching second-grade basketball these days, but his point was made. Having the third seed is meaningful only if it is put to good use.

With a 35-22 record, the Pacers are in a pack of four teams separated by two games: leading Boston (33-24), Atlanta (34-23) and Orlando (34-24). Indiana would lose tie-breakers to all three teams, so the remaining games are indeed critical to playoff positioning.

"You've got to learn how to close games out, close halves and close quarters. We're still learning, still have got a lot we can improve on," George Hill said. "Habits carry over. Even though we might play a team that's not in the playoff race, we need to have habits on the defensive end to get better, have habits on the offensive end to execute and things like that."

The Pacers actually had a practice Tuesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse -- their first since March 27. After playing in Cleveland tonight, they'll have another practice Thursday before the Cavs come to town for a rematch Friday.

"On the offensive end for us, it's just making sure we're in our spots every single time," Roy Hibbert said. "The good teams, they always make the right plays on the defensive end and if there's a hiccup, they pick up on it and make sure it doesn't happen again. We're trying to build good habits.

"The core guys that are playing out there are really dedicated to making sure we win on the right note and we go into the playoffs with the right momentum and making sure we do it the right way. We've got to prepare for tough, tough games."

The schedule favors the Pacers, who play six of nine at home and just three against teams with winning records. But two of those other games are against Milwaukee (28-29), which is battling New York and Philadelphia for the final two playoff spots.

Boston and Orlando both have five road games; the Celtics have five against teams with winning records, the Magic six. Atlanta has just three road games but has six against teams with winning records.

Indiana's magic number for clinching a playoff berth is three, but reaching the postseason has been an assumption since the season began. The idea is to extend it beyond the first round -- and maybe even longer.

"No question, a lot is still to be determined," Vogel said. "More importantly than anything, we've got habits that need to be improved if we are going to make a deep playoff run like we expect to make. We've got to get better, and that's the biggest thing we've got to focus on in the next (nine) games."

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