Popular Barbosa has sudden impact with Pacers

April 10, 2012-- To understand just what Leandro Barbosa came to mean to the Toronto Raptors in his relatively brief time there, consider the words of Coach Dwane Casey before the game with the Pacers Monday:

"He's one of the most beautiful people that you'll ever want to be around. He was kind of the spirit of our team and we've got to replace that. We've got to get it out of some of the people we have because Leandro is a beautiful young man and Indiana is a lucky organization to have him, not only on the court but off the court."

Barbosa only has been with the Pacers three weeks but they're beginning to understand just what Casey means.

The 29-year-old Brazilian has averaged 17.8 minutes and 8.5 points per game off the bench but his value goes well beyond the numbers. He doesn't hit a lot of shots but he has a knack for hitting them at key moments.

Against the Raptors, for example, he scored seven in the closing minutes of the third period as the Pacers extended the lead from 10 to 15. After Danny Granger went to the bench with his fifth foul with 4:16 remaining and the Raptors trailing 86-81, Barbosa stepped right in, converted one of his acrobatic drives to the hoop and nailed a 3-pointer to make it 93-85 with 2:09 remaining.

The Pacers went on to win 103-98, reducing their magic number for clinching a playoff berth to three.

The box score showed 14 points on 22.5 minutes, which barely began to reflect his impact on the game in what is becoming a prototypical performance.

"I've been pleased with everything he's done from the minute he's got here," Coach Frank Vogel said. "He's shown tremendous grit and veteran savvy defensively and has a knack to put the ball in the basket like very few do in this league."

When Barbosa has scored in double figures, the Pacers are 6-0, and that is beginning to happen with more consistency. In the last six games he has averaged 11.2 points on 50 percent shooting as he has grown in his comprehension of the offensive and defensive schemes.

Does he have it down now?

"Not yet, but I'm close," he said. "I'm happy to enjoy this team, first of all. It's a good opportunity and my teammates have been helping a lot on the court every time I'm there, they've been talking to me all the time and the coach has been doing the same thing. I think that's been the main thing for me to do OK."

The Pacers have gone 10-4 since acquiring Barbosa from the Raptors on March 21 for a 2012 second-round pick and cash. That includes victories over Miami and Oklahoma City. With Barbosa settling in as the backup shooting guard, the second unit has fallen nicely into place and Vogel has relished the opportunity to have an extra weapon to deploy.

"I think everybody is comfortable with their roles," Vogel said. "That's something I've tried to bring to the table since the minute I took over, just stabilizing the rotation. The more guys are familiar and comfortable with their roles, the better they can play out those roles. So I definitely think there's an element of that."

The player most effected by Barbosa's presence is George Hill, who had been the primary backup at both guard positions. Now, his minutes come almost exclusively at the point and he has struggled at times. Given the opportunity to start for the first time this season Monday when Darren Collison was out with a sore groin, Hill racked up 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists.

Vogel said he thinks Collison could return for the Pacers' game at Cleveland Wednesday.

"It's a big adjustment," Hill said. "They wanted me to play the one, started to do that, started rolling, they take me off the one and put me at the two, I struggle with it then I start rolling again and feel comfortable there and then they take me back off the two and move me to one, my shot started struggling because I was more on-ball than off-ball.

"But you know it's the nature of basketball. You come to work every day to try to get better and I'm thankful my team, my coaching staff still believes in me, still gives me a chance to play each day and I’m going to make the best of it."

Not only has Barbosa adapted well, he has quickly become a popular teammate because of his upbeat personality and international perspective.

"He embraces his role," Vogel said. "He's got a unique way of putting the ball in the basket, doesn't he? He has the coaches shaking our heads about twice a game with some of the moves and the spins he puts on the ball around the basket. He's very impressive with what he can do.

"He's become very beloved around here. Our trainers, our coaches all speak very highly of him and for me, as well. He's always, 'Whatever I can do for you coach.' He's just a vibrant personality that has really lightened up the locker room."

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