Caught in the Web Indiana Pacers blog: Regaining defensive edge key to busting slump

Regaining defensive edge key to busting slump

Feb. 15, 2012 - If you ask Frank Vogel what's wrong with the defense, you'd better have some time to spare.

"Our transition defense hasn't been sharp, we're gambling too much, we're not getting to our gaps or our help spots quickly enough, we're not protecting the rim well enough, we're not good enough on the ball on our pick-and-roll," he said. "Should I go on? Our post defense can get stronger, our vision of post cutters can get stronger.

"I could go on and on but there's a number of areas we looked at on tape. We understand that's not us and we've got to get back to being us."

And that was before the Pacers surrendered 68 points in the first half, fell behind by 35 in the second and lost to the Miami Heat 105-90 Tuesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Vogel's first priority, the cornerstone of the team's identity, is defense. The Pacers embraced it early in the season, ranking in the top two in points and field goal percentage allowed through the end of January. But somewhere along the way, oddly just about the time the offense started to come around, the team lost its defensive edge.

In the four-game losing streak, the Pacers have allowed averages of 103.3 points and .480 shooting, a remarkable slip for a team with season norms of 92.8 points and .428 shooting.

First-half lapses have been particularly troubling. Atlanta scored 59 and shot 55 percent and led by 18 at the break. Denver scored 60 and shot 54 percent. Miami racked up 68, an opponent season high, and shot 60 percent.

"Defensively, we're not giving any resistance," David West said. "We're letting guys cut where they want to cut, catch the ball where they want to catch the ball. We've got to figure out a way to take something away. It's more about us as players, because what we're doing when we're on the floor is not enough resistance.

"You've got to want to play in these games. You've got to want to compete against teams like this. From the beginning of the game, the tone we set, the body language, it just wasn't good enough to come out and compete."

The damage done in this slump, so far, is only superficial. Though they have fallen to sixth in the Eastern Conference, the Pacers still are just one-half game out of fourth. They are entering a remarkably soft stretch of games -- seven in a row against teams with sub-.500 records, beginning tonight in Cleveland. That includes two apiece with the two worst teams in the league, Charlotte (3-25) and New Orleans (5-23).

The turnaround offered by the schedule will only happen if the Pacers re-establish their defense.

"I just think we kind of lost it a little bit on the defensive end," Darren Collison said. "We're not as tied in as we were in the beginning of the season. There's things we can fix, things that got away from us. There's nothing unusual, we've just got to get back to basics. It's not the coach's fault, it's the team fault. We've got to find it within ourselves to correct these habits."

The phrase Pat Riley liked to use was "playing with force." The Pacers did it early in the year. They need to do it again, quickly.

"We have to understand winning is hard, doing the right things, being in the right spots at the right times. We have to realize we have to put in the hard work. We can't just show up and win," Roy Hibbert said. "(Tonight) is a must-win, hands-down. We have to win the next couple of games. Cleveland is probably going to see we've gotten knocked around a couple of times and they're going to come out hard.

"It would be nice for us to come out and hit people first, like other teams have been doing to us."

It would be more than nice. It would be mandatory.

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