Mark Montieth headshot

Notebook: Hibbert Swats Aside Controversy

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

June 3, 2013, 5:00 PM

Editor's Note: Have a Pacers-related question for Mark? Want to be featured in his mailbag column? Send your questions to Mark on twitter at @MarkMontieth or by email at askmontieth@gmail.com.

MIAMI – For those wondering if the controversy Roy Hibbert sparked following the Pacers' win over Miami Saturday night would become a distraction for him in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals tonight, the answer seemed clear following the team's morning shootaround.

It wasn't.

Hibbert was the primary target of the media's desire at American Airlines Arena when the curtains to the playing court opened. It was his first opportunity to take questions regarding his lighthearted but off-color statements in the interview room at Bankers Life Fieldhouse – a profanity-tinged complaint about the lack of national television coverage of the Pacers this season, and a reference that could be taken as a slur against the gay community.

Hibbert had issued a statement of apology through the team on Sunday. Pacers media relations director David Benner put a five-minute time limit on Hibbert's availability, and stood by while he took questions.

“I made a statement and that's all I'm going to comment on it,” Hibbert said when asked about the matter.

How will you keep your focus on the task at hand?

“I'm ready to play tonight. Game 7,” he said. “I haven't been in this position in the three years I've been in the playoffs, so I'm just going to go out there and play tough and hard.”

Will the attention given to his comments detract from his performance tonight?

“Mm mm,” he said quickly, shaking his head. “I'm good.”

Hibbert's teammates also brushed aside the issue.

“What happened, happened,” said Paul George, who was sitting with Hibbert at the postgame session on Saturday. “We've moved on from it.

“I thought it was taken out of context. It wasn't needed, but because it's the Eastern Conference finals (the media) found something to blow up.”

Tonight's the Night

The Pacers can address Hibbert's complaint about lack of coverage from the national media with a victory tonight and advancing to the NBA Finals for the second time in franchise history. There would be plenty of attention awaiting them in San Antonio, where the Finals would begin on Thursday if they are to take on the Spurs.

(If Miami wins, the Finals would begin here on Thursday, as the Heat had the league's best record during the regular season.)

George, who has penetrated the consciousness of the national media this season, looks forward to the bigger spotlight.

“It will be another opportunity for us to be shown on the national stage,” George said.

The Pacers appeared relaxed following Monday's early practice session, but are taking a serious-minded approach to the game. They claim the pressure is on them as much as it is the defending champion and heavily favored Heat, and they claim they believe they can win, too.

“We've been working toward this moment all year,” David West said. “It's time for us to put up.

“We talked about this moment in training camp. We felt we could get to the Finals and we felt the team we'd have to go through was Miami. That's all we've talked about from Day One. Even with Danny going out, we felt we had enough pieces and enough character in our locker room to get to this moment. And we're here.”

Hibbert declared the players to be “very focused, very encouraged, enthusiastic, upbeat and ready for the challenge.

“We feel we're slowly figuring them out,” he added.

West Feeling Better

West played through an upper respiratory infection in the Pacers' win on Saturday contributing 17 points and making crucial second-half plays, when they held off a Heat comeback. He did not meet with the media afterward, leaving behind a statement through a team spokesman and hurrying home.

Asked Monday about the hardest part of playing on Saturday, West said: “Keeping my vomit down.”

West, whose temperature on Saturday exceeded 100 degrees, received two intravenous fluid transmissions that night. He said he began feeling ill about 4 a.m. on Saturday, and was told to go home after showing up for the morning shoot-around. He wasn't sure how he had contracted the virus.

He said he felt better on Monday, although his voice was still affected by the illness.

West was scoreless at halftime of Saturday's game, having missed all seven shots, but hit 4-of-6 shots in the final nine minutes.

“I just got a little burst of energy,” he recalled. “I was drinking a lot of fluids and had a little bit of clarity in those final few moments.”

Players Break Bread Together

West was one of the few players not to attend a team meal after the Pacers arrived in Miami on Sunday. He stayed back at the hotel to rest, but most of the others – 10 or 11 by one count – went out to dinner together.

“It was a chance for us to come together … it's like that last dinner before you go out to battle,” George said.

“It's a confidence-booster. Just knowing everybody's on the same page and we're all in it together.”

Late Arrivals

Several media members had difficulty getting from Indianapolis to Miami on Sunday because of all the rain on the East Coast and in Atlanta. One New York Times reporter required nearly 12 hours to get from his Indianapolis hotel to his Miami hotel because of delays and missed connections. Your friendly Pacers.com folks were delayed four hours getting out of Indianapolis and arrived in Miami about 1:30 a.m. Monday.

The Pacers' team flight also left Indianapolis three hours later than planned because a battery had to be replaced in their charter airplane. Most of the players had not left home when the problem was discovered, and were able to remain there while the part was driven over from Cincinnati.

The Pacers will fly out of Miami early Tuesday afternoon. If they win, they head off to San Antonio for the NBA Finals. If they lose, they fly back to Indianapolis.

Pressure on Pacers, Too

The traditional cliché for a game such as tonight's is that all the pressure is on Miami. It's the defending champion, had the NBA's best record during the regular season, finishing 16 ½ games ahead of the Pacers, and is playing on its home court.

The Pacers, however, aren't trying to put it all on the Heat. They feel it, too.

“Both teams have equal pressure,” coach Frank Vogel said. “Both teams know we're going home if we don't win and both can feel a trip to the Finals if we can play well enough to win.”

Hibbert agreed, saying he felt no advantage to being the road team.

“If we were playing at home, that would be great, but it's going to show what we're made of to win Game 7 on the road,” he said. “I'm not sure what the stats are for that, but it's going to show the type of team we're made of.”

The home team has a 16-2 record in the seventh game of a conference finals or NBA Finals series.

Ready, Lance?

Lance Stephenson appears to be the greatest X-factor for the Pacers, given his erratic play in the postseason. He's scored 7, 7 and 4 points in their three losses, and 10, 20 and 4 points in their three wins.

He did have a solid all-around game on Saturday, with 12 rebounds, four assists and four turnovers in 40 minutes.

“I feel like I'm doing good,” he said Monday. “You can't have good scoring games every game. I just try to do something different like rebound, get assists, be in my gaps, play good defense. I just did whatever it took to win the game.”

His goal for tonight?

“Play aggressive and be in attack mode all the time. Be in my gaps and try to make LeBron James work.”

Tonight's game figures to be a major challenge for a 22-year-old player such as Stephenson, but West said his teammates aren't expecting any miracles.

“We need him to be Lance,” West said. “We don't need him to try to be a super hero or anything like that. Just trust who he's been all year. That will give us the best chance to win.”

West also warned against any of the Pacers feeling they'll have more opportunities to play in the NBA Finals, just because they're young.

“We talked after shoot-around as a group,” he said. “We have to take advantage of this moment. You don't know when this opportunity will be here again. You can't just say because you're young it will come again. That's the message for all of us. This is it. We've got nothing other than tonight. No other opportunity than tonight. We need maximum effort from everybody.”

Waiting for LeBron

The Pacers aren't sure what to expect from LeBron James tonight. The four-time league MVP is in a bit of a quandary because he's not getting much help from fellow All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Does he try to take over the game himself, as he did successfully in Game 5, or try to keep his teammates involved?

Wade complained a bit about not being more involved in the offense after Game 6, when he scored just 10 points on 3-of-11 shooting. Bosh had five points on 1-of-8 shooting in that game, but said Monday he needs to step up tonight.

The general feeling is that James will try to involve his teammates early, but if that's not working, will try to take over the game.

That would be fine with James' primary defender, George.

“LeBron's that much more effective when he's the facilitator,” George said. “When he goes into his scoring mode, we know he's going to score. But him going into that mode takes away from guys like Wade and Bosh getting a rhythm. We're just getting attacked from one angle, and we're fine with that.”

Said Vogel: “He's going to be a major threat, whatever mode he's going to be in.”