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Hibbert Ready for New Questions

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

April 17, 2014

The media was out in force for the Pacers' practice on Thursday, as it tends to be when the playoffs are about to begin, and its primary target was obvious.

Roy Hibbert has hit just 3-of-28 shots in the past four games, a stretch of offensive futility that began with a game against the upcoming first-round playoff opponent, Atlanta, when he made little attempt to hide his disappointment over being benched for the second half.

Naturally, Hibbert's play will be crucial for the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed in the postseason, and Hibbert's play is usually linked to his state of mind. So, inquiring minds tried to tip-toe their way to the topic following Thursday's practice at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

A few softballs were lobbed before Hibbert was gently asked about his confidence level.

Ready to roll?

“Yeah, ready to roll,” he said. “I said that before ...”

Tired of being asked about that?

“Tired of you guys asking that, yeah,” he said. “I'm ready to go.”

No added pressure because it's the playoffs?

“No. I've been doing this for like six years now, so I'm ready to go,” he said, clearly irritated by the line of questioning.

The Pacers are expressing complete confidence that Hibbert can once again become the dominant inside presence he was a year ago, when he was a defensive force and averaged 17 points and 9.9 rebounds over three playoff rounds. He reached a peak for his then-five year career in the conference finals against Miami, averaging 22.1 points and 10.4 rebounds.

“He’s going to be huge for us; he’s got to be huge for us on the offensive end, which I know he (will be),” Paul George said. “Last year he took that step in the postseason and really was dominant. So we all feel like we’re going to get that same Roy this time around.”

A review of the tape reveals George did indeed say “offensive end,” which contradicted coach Frank Vogel's statement about Hibbert's offense being a bonus, but no matter. The Pacers just want their old Hibbert back, the one who's made two All-Star teams and was the preseason favorite to be named Defensive Player of the Year. They find hope in his last two outings, when he still struggled to score but grabbed a total of 13 rebounds in limited minutes and played with a more energetic disposition. Practice has gone well, too, they say.

Hibbert clearly lost confidence along the way after this season's All-Star break, partly because he didn't feel involved enough in the offense. He wasn't necessarily looking to shoot much more, just to touch the ball now and then and be part of the action. He's aired no such complaints lately, though, and has been in a more upbeat frame of mind – except when he's asked about his frame of mind.

“Actually, I'm pretty confident in how he is,” Vogel said. “I've seen him in tough stretches and he gets pretty down on himself. He doesn't seem to be that way now.”

Hibbert's fluency in body language allows the coaches to read his mood, which gives them further confidence about his current emotions. Assistant coach Popeye Jones, Hibbert's personal coach and counselor, acknowledges the recent esteem issues, but believes they've worked through that together via video. They recently watched 27 isolated clips of Hibbert, both good and bad, and there's still more to watch. They've talked about the importance of posting up closer to the basket, and which moves work and which ones don't. Jones has reminded him that Vogel has stuck with him, and that his teammates are relying on him.

Which still begs the question: How can a two-time All-Star suffer such a loss in confidence?

“Oh, man, it's a long season,” said Jones, a veteran of 11 NBA seasons. “I wish I had the answer to that, actually. It happens to players. What you try to do is get him not to think as much. When a player loses confidence, and you see it a lot in this league, they start thinking too much.”

The playoffs offer a new beginning for all players. One big game, or game-winning play, can make everyone forget an entire season. More than any of the Pacers, Hibbert should welcome the opportunity to push the Reset button, start over and stop having to answer the same old questions.

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