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Staying in the Hunt

by Scott Agness

November 26, 2012

There's an important fork in the road coming up for the Indiana Pacers. One path involves winning, team contributions, a flowing offense and a positive feel. The other side is gloomy, with losses and frustration ready to stack up as problems arise.

The Pacers will be heading towards the decision point as they play four in a row on the road beginning Tuesday against the Lakers. They will then face Sacramento, Golden State and Chicago.

Ten days ago, following losses to Toronto and Milwaukee, head coach Frank Vogel and his staff decided to implement change on offense. The coaches are seeking ‘flow,' a buzzword used that involves a faster tempo on offense with more ball movement and less thinking on the floor. Impressively, they introduced it during an hour-long morning shootaround and went on to beat Dallas that night by 20.

"The offense is an implementation—change in philosophy with pace and tempo," Vogel said. "'Flow' is a word that you hear (Mavericks coach) Rick Carlise use a lot, where you're not relying on play calls but you're just asking guys to play the game in a system."

The Pacers are 29th in the NBA in points per game (91.2) and field goal percentage (41.3%). Coach Vogel is hopeful that this new and improved offense will lead to higher numbers.

Before the team heads out west, they're getting three quality days of practices in – a rarity while in-season. They will also have two full days of practices between games Tuesday and Friday to gain a deeper understanding of the new offense.

"It's wonderful," Vogel said. "It's been like a little bit of a mini training camp, using the two days of practice out in L.A. to further that process along because we have a bunch of games following that stretch.

"We're looking at this as a five practices in six days type of moment that really is going to help change our team."

Playing without Danny Granger, who's expected to be out until February with a sore left knee, hit the team hard. They seemed caught off guard and unsure of themselves and each other's roles.

In the past few games however, Roy Hibbert has (mostly) returned to old form, Paul George had the best game of his young career and Lance Stephenson continues to shows signs of maturity and development.

The Pacers need to funnel that all together, and more, as they venture west against formidable opponents, opening with the once-dysfunctional Los Angeles Lakers.

The Lakers got off to a rough start, losing their first 11 games, including a winless (0-8) preseason. Problems lingered and management eventually fired Mike Brown as head coach and replaced him with Mike D'Antoni. Even with the problems they're fighting, the Lakers still have Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, and Pau Gasol. Indiana has left the Staples Center victorious in each of the last two seasons and they have every intention in continuing that streak Tuesday.

If the Pacers can go 3-1 on this road trip, they should feel very good about what they've accomplished on the path to success. However, if they only manage to pick up one win, they'll return home needing to look themselves in the mirror.

The message for this trip is to stay in the hunt. Stay committed, stay together, and stay positive. And in doing so, they'll remain competitive in the Eastern Conference, without their leader.

The Pacers (6-8) are third in the Central Division behind Milwaukee and Chicago. Once this trip is complete, the Pacers will have completed their difficult start to the season, where they played 12 of their first 18 games on the road.

"A tough stretch is what it is... we just have the mindset of winning the next game."

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Indiana Pacers. All opinions expressed by Scott Agness are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Indiana Pacers, their partners, or sponsors.