Pacers Begin Preparing For Bulls
April 12, 2011
The regular season is not quite over but the preparation for the playoffs has begun.
Though the players had a day off Monday, the coaches did not. They met early in the morning and spent much of the day building their game-plan for the first-round series with the top-seeded Bulls that begins either Saturday or Sunday in Chicago.
With today's practice, the on-court phase of the process begins in earnest.
"We want to build steam going into the playoffs, build momentum, look to improve," said interim coach Frank Vogel. "We've got to improve if we're going to have a chance to beat a Chicago Bulls team that's playing out of this world. We've got to continue each day, each practice, each shootaround, each game, to improve. Winning is a habit. We've got to continue to build that habit."
The Pacers (37-44) close the regular season Wednesday night in Orlando, a game that carries no weight in the standings for either team. The Magic (51-30) has a lock in the fourth seed and will have homecourt advantage for its first-round matchup with fifth-seeded Atlanta.
Indiana's focus, then, clearly is on the Bulls.
"(Coach) Tom Thibodeau has done a phenomenal job with that team, taking them from a mediocre team to a title contender," said Vogel. "We know how good they are. It is going to be a big challenge. We know our guys are capable of beating them. We are excited to be in the playoffs, but we aren’t looking to just get in and go four and out. We think we can win."
Indiana's confidence stems from a 115-108 overtime victory over Chicago on March 18 in Conseco Fieldhouse. The Pacers controlled most of the game and had a 15-point lead early in the fourth quarter but Rose scored 19 points in the final 7:19 -- including three free throws to tie the game with 1.2 seconds left after a controversial foul call -- to bring the Bulls back and force the extra session.
The Pacers re-asserted themselves in overtime to pull away.
Chicago won the first three meetings, each by double digits, thanks largely to a defense that held the Pacers to fewer than 90 points and less than 40 percent shooting. But the third of those matchups, a 110-89 Bulls victory in Chicago on Jan. 29, was also the last of Jim O'Brien's tenure as head coach. He was replaced by Vogel the next day and the Pacers, 17-27 at the time, have gone 20-17 since.
"They're a good team, they've probably got the MVP in D-Rose, it's going to be tough," said Danny Granger, who has shot 37 percent against the Bulls this season. "We're going to go do the drawing board, figure out their offense and try to find out ways to attack it. It should be a battle."
The odds of course are stacked squarely against the Pacers. Only three times since the playoffs were expanded to 16 teams in 1984 has the No. 8 seed upended the No. 1 seed (Denver over Seattle in 1994, New York over Miami in 1999 and Golden State over Dallas in 2007). The Warriors hold the lone upset in a best-of-seven format, which as adopted for the first round in 2003; the previous two were best-of-five series.
"I think we can match up pretty well with them," said Paul George. "In the previous games we've played them we've struggled a little bit but we won last and I think we kind of understand how to play that team, hopefully.
"I think everybody knows what we have ahead of us, won't back down and will take the challenge."