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Changes Coming?

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

April 21, 2014

A zone defense?

Paul George guarding Jeff Teague?

A different starting lineup?

A revised playing rotation?

The Pacers' loss to Atlanta on Saturday would seem to demand some changes in coaching strategy heading into Game 2 on Tuesday. Losing the first two games on your home court, after all, isn't a highly regarded way to kick off a playoff series.

Coach Frank Vogel was coy when pressed on the issue following Monday's practice at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, not wishing to become the first coach in NBA history to reveal strategy to the opponent a day before a playoff game. But, winds of change were wafting through the building. Practice ran longer than was originally advertised to the media, and all doors were closed. Afterward, Lance Stephenson created a breeze when asked if strategic changes were forthcoming.

“Of course we're going to make changes,” he said. “We're not allowed to talk about the changes we made, (the Hawks) will figure it out when we play.”

Earlier, Vogel had only hinted at the possibility.

“I prefer not to make major changes,” he said.

Are you willing?

“Of course.”

Do you think you will?

“We'll see.”

Vogel said all of this with a smile, lending credence to the possibility of alterations, but was quick to defend the notion of staying the course. It's fair to question whether the top-seeded team should scramble to adjust to the eighth-seeded team. Dallas, a 67-win team during the 2006-07 season, did just that after losing Game 1 to Golden State, and lost the first-round series. A year later, after another first-round exit, coach Avery Johnson was fired.

“There's risk in being who you're not,” Vogel said.

Any changes are most likely to come on defense. Offensively, Vogel simply wants his team to move the ball more quickly and more often, and for Roy Hibbert to establish better post position near the basket and for his teammates to toss the ball to him when he does. But given the way Hawks point guard Jeff Teague punctured the Pacers' defense on Saturday, some sort of adjustment seems in order.

The players talked Monday about doing a better job of helping one another, filling gaps and all that, but would they go to the extreme of rolling out a zone defense for the first time this season? Vogel said during last season's playoff series with Miami that he would implement it this season. He hasn't, largely because the team's trip to Taiwan and the Philippines for two preseason games sliced too large a chunk out of his practice time.

The bottom line is, something will be to be done to prevent Teague from running a layup line. He had nine of them on Saturday on his way to 28 points. A zone defense would be one way to do it.

“I wish we had used it more, because then I'd be more comfortable using it now,” Vogel said. “That is something we're talking pretty lengthily about.”

The primary reason to utilize a zone, Vogel said, would be to keep Roy Hibbert in front of the rim, where he can defend layups. That would require Hibbert's four teammates to defend five players, which would seem to require a zone of some sort.

“That's something we'll likely see at some point in this series,” Vogel said.

At the very least, it's likely that Paul George will defend Teague at some point. George isn't as quick as Teague, but he is seven inches taller and the Pacers' best perimeter defender.

George has said he wants to do it. But he wasn't going to say he would do it.

“If the opportunity calls for it, I'll enjoy the match-up,” he said, smiling.

“For all I know,” he added, “Hibbert's guarding him.”

The Pacers won't go that far. They were following a dead-end path on Saturday, though, so a change or two in a different direction would seem the lesser risk.

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