On Eve of New Season, Pacers Look to Take Next Step

Manny Randhawa | Pacers.com

October 28, 2013

Twenty-nine hours before the scheduled tip-off of the regular season for the Pacers, Paul George walked off the court at Bankers Life Fieldhouse to speak with the media following the team’s practice on Monday afternoon.

George reflected on the difficult moments in the 146 days since the team’s Game 7 loss in the Eastern Conference Finals – the moments in the trenches – when he approached his physical limits during offseason workouts and conditioning.

He said that Game 7 occupied his thoughts in those grueling moments, and fueled him to push past them.

“You’re talking about being one game away from being in the Finals,” George said. “It came down to one game. And just not finding a way to get it done, and finding the energy within to still compete and continue to go on, it does push you, and it motivates you. During my workouts, when there were times when I was fatigued, that’s where it came up, where I had to find a way to fight through it.”

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For George’s teammate, Roy Hibbert, the book on Game 7 has been closed. And burned.

“To tell you the truth, I’m just tired of talking about last year,” Hibbert said. “Last year it was a different team. It’s a new year and we have new things to accomplish.”

Since Game 7, the anticipation for the dawn of a new Pacers season has been palpable, and for returning players and newcomers alike, Tuesday night’s season opener against the Orlando Magic couldn’t arrive sooner.

Now all the workouts, all the conditioning, and all the sweat that has been expended since the final horn sounded at American Airlines Arena on June 3, will give way to the Pacers’ first meaningful basketball game since.

On the eve of Opening Night, the notion of getting less than a full night’s sleep before Game No. 1 was a foregone conclusion for George.

“It’s really exciting,” he said. “The year that we had last year, it was the first time for a lot of us, being that far … It’s an overwhelming feeling to start the year off. It’s one of those ‘not going to be able to sleep tonight’ type of deals for me.”

“We’re ready for this,” said Orlando Johnson, who is entering his second NBA season. “We’ve been thinking about this ever since [last] season really ended. We know that we have a great opportunity ahead of us, so we’re ready to just get out there and let it happen.”

David West, who inked a three-year deal in July to stay in Indiana, said that with a new season on the horizon, the keys to getting back to where the Pacers were last season – and pushing beyond – are meticulous preparation and taking it 48 minutes at a time.

“It’s the start of a long year,” West said. “Obviously, you want to get off to a good start, start gaining some momentum, [but] you can’t look too far ahead. You have to prepare every single day for the next task at hand.”

George Hill, who posted career-highs in points (14.2), assists (4.7) and steals (1.1) in his first season as a full-time starter, pointed out that with last season’s success comes new challenges. He said that when the Pacers take the floor Tuesday night, they’ll be wearing more than their names and uniform numbers on the back of their jerseys.

“The success that we had last year only brings a target on our backs,” Hill said. “We’re going to get everyone’s best shot. We’re one of the teams to beat, so we have to play like that every night.”

For the man who was most notable for his absence during last season’s run, and who will for the second consecutive year begin the season watching from the sideline, injury setbacks haven’t dampened enthusiasm for a team that has only gotten deeper since pushing the Miami Heat to the brink nearly five months ago.

“Obviously, we had a good year last year and a good year the year before that,” said Danny Granger, who will miss the first three weeks of the season with a strained left calf after missing nearly all of last season with a knee injury. “Just the promise that this team shows is so encouraging. We added some new pieces. I’m really impressed with Luis Scola. I don’t think I’ve seen him miss a jump-shot yet. And we’re just so much of a better team. We’re a lot more ready to compete this year.”

Scola is one of a handful of new additions to the roster, brought onboard to give the Pacers more depth on the bench. Indiana also signed free agents Chris Copeland and C.J. Watson.

And even for a newcomer like Scola, who was acquired in a trade with the Suns, taking the floor on Opening Night wearing a Pacers uniform is something he’s looking forward to with anticipation.

“It’s very exciting,” Scola said. “I just got here, and this team played really, really well last season. I’m hoping we can get better from last year.”

For head coach Frank Vogel, who has guided the Pacers to a 185-111 (.600) win-loss record since taking the helm in 2011, the goal for the new campaign is clear: take the next step.

“Obviously, we set out the goal of trying to win the East,” Vogel said. “In terms of the regular season, home court advantage, try to get that one-seed.

“There’s obviously great, great, competition out there with some of the great teams in the Eastern Conference. But it starts Tuesday night.”

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