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Dominant Defense Giving Pacers Home-Court Advantage

by Scott Agness | @ScottAgness

January 13, 2014

Defense is everything to the Pacers. When Frank Vogel took over as head coach in late January of 2011, he challenged his group to play smash-mouth basketball.

They quickly embraced that identity.

This season, they’ve catapulted to the front of the league in most defensive categories. Nobody has done it better than the Pacers, who currently own the NBA’s best record (29-7) and are the only team with fewer than three home losses. They are 18-1 in the friendly confines of Bankers Life Fieldhouse and both the players and coaches have noticed the uptick in attendance – almost 2,000 more fans are coming out each night.

In home games this season, the Pacers are allowing just 82.6 points per game, more than 11 points fewer than give up on the road (93.4). Over the last 10 home games, they’ve held seven teams below 85 points. With the crowd behind them, opponents’ field goal percentage is nearly five percent worse.

Vogel believes their extraordinary defense at the Fieldhouse is just typical home-court advantage, and nothing more. They’ve publicly announced their focus during the regular season is to finish with the No. 1 seed in the East, which would ensure home-court advantage in the postseason.

As a goal-oriented coach, Vogel set out with clear record-related targets based on what the leaders did last season.

“Miami was 17 games over .500 and Oklahoma City was 11 games over .500 (on the road),” Vogel recalled. “We know that that’s sort of our barometer of what we have to accomplish on the road to feel like we need to get home-court advantage.”

And what's Vogel's goal for home games?

“Win them all."

Last season, the Pacers were 30-11 at home, with a handful of bad losses. Except for a minor stumble against the Detroit Pistons, the Pacers’ defense has been consistent and they’ve found ways to win.

“It’s just nothing like playing at home,” said Pacers swingman Paul George. “The attendance has been great for us. I don’t know what it is. There’s just something about playing at home that you want to protect your home court and you want to come out and perform in front of the home crowd.

“I know personally, that’s what keeps me going and keeps me locked in defensively and I know everyone takes accountability of their own matchup.”

Saturday’s win over the Washington Wizards perfectly demonstrated the Pacers’ home dominance. They held the Wizards to 66 points, the lowest output of any team in the NBA this season. That’s more than 30 points below their season average of 97.8 points per game.

“Give them credit,” Wizards guard John Wall said afterwards. “They know their identity. And when they need to make stops, they make plays.”

In nine of their 19 home games, Indiana’s tenacious defense has limited its opponent to a season-low point total.

“I think our fans give us great energy,” Vogel said. “These guys feel comfortable here, especially the fans this year with all the sellouts that we’ve had. … We know that every game matters so when you’re able to start the game with that kind of buzz and the crowd already, I think it energizes our guys.”

C.J. Watson backed that up. “It’s the crowd, everything,” he said.

When their offense has sputtered to get going, their defense has been there – no matter where they are. According to NBA.com/stats, the Pacers are giving up just 87 points per 100 possessions, 7.1 less than the next team.

Following a stretch of six games in nine days, the Pacers had a needed day off Saturday, and then returned to the practice court on Sunday to improve on their habits. There was an emphasis on raising their offensive motor, playing more focused and with an edge. As practice concluded, the team gathered around Vogel, who wants his team to make the most of each practice day. “You’re either getting better or getting worse each day,” he stressed.

Before venturing out West for a five game, 10-day road trip, the Pacers have a weeklong homestand – three games against Sacramento, New York, and Los Angeles (Clippers). The Pacers have won four of their previous five games and would like to maintain their stranglehold on opponents at the Fieldhouse.

“Just one simple play can swing momentum so I think our homestand, our crowd and our attendance play a huge part on why we’re so successful at home,” George said. “We are a confident group that feels like we shouldn’t lose at home.”

Added Vogel: “If you want to see a team that works harder on the defensive end than any team you’ve ever seen, come see us play.”

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