Mahinmi and P George look up for a rebound against the Thunder
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Pacers Positively Ready to Begin Anew

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

April 8, 2013

The emphasis of the Pacers' practice on Monday was positive energy, something that comes as naturally to Frank Vogel as, say, spinning a basketball on the end of a toothbrush while brushing his teeth.

In case you haven't heard, Vogel actually did that as part of the Stupid Human Tricks segment on Late Night with David Letterman as an eighth grader. Now, as the grown-up coach of an NBA team, the trick will be to get his team rejuvenated for five more regular season games and the playoffs.

Tuesday's game against Cleveland at Bankers Life Fieldhouse is being regarded by coaches and players as an opportunity for a rebirth of sorts in the wake of resounding losses to Oklahoma City (22 points) and Washington (19) last Friday and Saturday. That, as opposed to a nap. They still hold out hope of surpassing New York for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, and won't back off until the laws of mathematics tell them it's too late.

“Having the highest possible seed gives you the best chance in the playoffs,” Vogel said. “That's our first priority. As long as there's some wiggle room within that, it takes priority over rest.”

The Pacers trail the Knicks by 2 ½ games for the second seed, and lead Brooklyn by 3 ½ games for the third spot. Catching the Knicks is a daunting challenge that would require a meltdown by a team that's won 12 consecutive games. “They would have to stumble for us to catch them but we want to put ourselves in position to capitalize should they stumble,” Vogel said.

The Pacers, however, might lock up the third seed with a victory over the Cavs and another over Brooklyn on Friday. Their next game would be at New York on Sunday, at which point they can rest key players for the final two games if they are no longer contending for the second seed.

The trends of the season predict a positive response from the Pacers. Their greatest accomplishments have led to low points, which led to regeneration. Winning all three games of a back-to-back-to-back set with Chicago, Atlanta and Philadelphia in February was a peak, but was followed by homecourt losses to Toronto and Brooklyn, which was followed by a five-game winning streak. Their other peak was winning all four games of the Western road trip, which was followed by the losses to the Thunder and Wizards.

Paul George is hoping trends continue as well. He combined to hit just 3-of-19 field goal attempts in the weekend losses, missing all 10 three-pointers, and declared himself “really fatigued” following Saturday's defeat. Those games of eight and two points followed a streak of 23 consecutive games in double figures. The only other time he had back-to-back games with single-figure scoring this season, he responded with 29 points against Miami and 24 against New York, which turned out to be the start of a stretch in which he reached double figures in 39-of-40 games.

George wasn't the only Pacer struggling, however. Lance Stephenson combined to hit just 2-of-8 shots in the recent losses, and the team overall hit just 5-of-41 three-pointers. Vogel cited missed assignments on defense, a failure to fight for rebounds and a general virus of mental mistakes as evidence of his team's malaise.

It's all part of the ebb and flow of the 82-game NBA season, where only the historically great teams and players avoid an occasional swoon.

The Pacers at least sounded like a team ready to flow again following Monday's practice at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Vogel declared it a “great practice” with “a lot of positive energy.” He kept it shorter than usual, and canceled Tuesday's game-day shoot-around in a concession to weary legs. He'll continue to do that on at least some of the game days the rest of the season.

Otherwise, it's up to the players to dust themselves off and begin anew.

"Everybody in this league is tired at this point of the season,” Roy Hibbert said. “We're going to pick each other up."

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