With 3rd seed clinched, coaches weigh rest vs. rust
April 22, 2012 -- Here's a topic that hasn't come up much for the Pacers in recent years:
With the final two games of the regular season essentially meaningless, should the coaching staff rest the key players at the risk of developing rust heading into the postseason?
New York's 113-112 win in Atlanta Sunday clinched the third seed in the East for the Pacers, who almost certainly will face the Orlando Magic in the first round of the playoffs. Before things were locked in, I talked to Coach Frank Vogel about his thoughts on the looming scenario.
"I'm still on the fence," Vogel said. "Even if we have it clinched I may want to look at playing everybody regular minutes to see what a playoff rotation would look like and get D.C. (Darren Collison) out there in regular minutes. But I haven't made a final decision on that. I'll talk with our trainers and if we get into that scenario we'll see if it makes more sense to rest certain guys."
There are no significant injury issues, although it might be a good idea to give George Hill as much rest as possible. On a drive to the bucket against the 76ers Saturday in bankers Life Fieldhouse, Hill tweaked the left shoulder injury that caused him to miss 14 games earlier this season. He finished the game wearing the familiar protective brace.
"You don't want to jeopardize anyone getting hurt," Hill said. "But at the same time you have to be able to come into games and at least play a half or so to keep our motor running and keep our timing the same and things like that. I know the coaching staff probably wouldn't make us play the whole game.'
The rest of the roster is as healthy as could be expected nearing the completion of a compressed schedule. Thanks to Vogel's masterful managing of playing time, no player has averaged more than 34 minutes and only two (Danny Granger and Collison) average more than 30.
Still, the opportunity for rest could be too valuable to pass.
"You've just got to take it really on a player by player basis," Vogel said. "If a guy's completely healthy, maybe you sit him out for the whole game, maybe you just limit his minutes. Start them, keep them in rhythm. It's something I'll be talking to my coaching staff about a lot over the next few days and probably just make game-time decisions. ...
"If we clinch the third seed and we're tied in and there's meaningless games, then we'll consider resting some guys, trying some different combinations but I haven't decided fully what we're going to do with that yet."
One change you can expect to see is a more studied look at Kyrylo Fesenko. The 7-1, 290-pound center from Ukraine intrigues the Pacers because of his size and skill set but he has made just two appearances totaling seven minutes since signing on March 21. With Dwight Howard out, there is less immediate need for another big body but Fesenko could still be a valuable commodity.
"He's a big body that has good feet, good hands, seems to have a good feel for the game," Vogel said. "I think he could help us if we could find a way to get him up to speed which is a challenge, a really big challenge, for us."
The extra time to prepare and practice with one specific opponent in mind also will be a welcome departure for the coaching staff.
"I think our strengths are going to come through with guys like Brian Shaw and Jim Boylen having deep playoff experience, championship experience," Vogel said. "And Dan Burke, as well. I think we have probably the best crew of assistant coaches in the NBA and the experience they're going to bring to the table is going to help us prepare and I really think it's going to be worth a couple of wins in the playoffs."