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Pacers Look to Renew Togetherness

by Scott Agness | @ScottAgness

March 20, 2014

The Pacers have 50 wins, the second-best overall record in the NBA, and are three games up on Miami in the Eastern Conference. But they recognize their subpar play of late as they're just 10-6 since the All-Star break and are without a win over a team with a +.500 record.

Indiana’s “togetherness” —their team motto that is constantly preached and often written on the dry-erase board in the locker room by coach Vogel — is off and, in turn, the whole team is off. It was most apparent in their loss to New York on Wednesday, where they had 12 assists and just two in the first half.

“We’re not getting back to playing for one another,” said the face of the team, Paul George. “Not many games we’ve played where we’re around 10 assists for a game. We’re usually around 20, even about 18 or 19. That scenario we’ve got to get better with. I think we’ve become a one-on-one kind of team and that’s not going to get us nowhere. I think for us it’s just knowing our roles and playing for one another.”

When there are questions about this team, reporters line up to speak with the very candid David West, who did not disappoint.

“We’re not going to overreact or anything,” he said following a short practice Thursday after they didn’t arrive home in Indianapolis until 3 a.m.

“Obviously, we feel like we can play better. We’re not playing a good brand of basketball. It’s good enough at times to win, but it’s not good enough on a consistent enough basis to win particularly tough games, whether it be on the road or [against] teams that are a little more tied together than we are.”

For West to be saying that, it’s undoubtedly a concern internally. They discussed it amongst themselves after the loss, and then again Thursday in a film session.

The recent uptick in one-on-one play was most visible when the Pacers got to within one, 67-66, early in the fourth quarter after trailing the Knicks by 16. The next three times down the floor, they never got into their offense but rather threw up — and missed — quick shots from 3-point land.

“We talked about that,” West acknowledged. “But again, if you don’t play the right way sometimes and just think you can show up and beat people without actually doing the work and concentrating on the details, things aren’t going to work in your favor.

“We tried to make a couple hero plays, didn’t share the ball, didn’t screen the right way — small detailed stuff that came back to bite us in the end.”

The Pacers have been on top of the conference since November, when they sprinted out to a 9-0 start. Paul George received early MVP consideration after being named the Eastern Conference Player of the Month, they kept adding wins and then sent a couple players, plus the coaching staff, to the All-Star game.

It sure feels like the Pacers have relaxed, and lost the chip on their shoulder. They continue to dig themselves big holes early in games and then have to fight to crawl their way out. For obvious reasons, they are no longer the underdog and the hunted rather than the hunter.

“I don’t know if we’re dealing with success the right way,” West continued. “I think the expectation of ‘just go out and win’ without still understanding there’s a need to go out and do the work and pay attention to the very small details that we need to deal with.”

Coach Vogel has designated the final month of the season as a time for them to continue to build winning habits that’ll be necessary in the playoffs. George says they can start by “Always bringing that No. 1 defense.

“[We need to] get back to being in the help side, get back to containing the ball, get back to protecting the rim, protecting the paint, and again, sharing the ball, playing for one another.”

Vogel appreciates the 50 wins, as it is no easy feat. They are just the sixth team in the franchise’s NBA history to win at least 50 games, and the first since 2004.

Here’s how he sees it: “The right perspective is that we’re playing pretty well, we have a really good team. Nobody needs to panic and go nuts. Stay the course, keeping doing what we’re doing. We’re winning a lot more than we’re losing and just try to get better everyday.”

They can start by coming out fired up and playing agitated. Then, make simple passes and go for a single or a double, in baseball terms, rather than swing for home runs.

“We’ve just got to continue to push towards identifying ourselves as a group and not feel like we have to depend on one or two guys to do the bulk of the lifting around here,” added West. “We’re not built for that.

“We see the finish line. We’ve got 14 games and obviously have a tough weekend coming up but we were talking this morning in the film session. We’re just not going to overreact to the perception that’s coming from the outside. We have full confidence in this group and we feel pretty strongly.”

This team has the talent, coaching and support staff to win a championship, their ultimate goal. But first, they’ll try to renew their togetherness. If they can do that and continue building on their recent playoff experience, there’s no reason this team can’t reach their goal.

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