Pacers hope hard work can rebuild swagger
March 7, 2012 - Call it mojo, swagger, confidence or edge, it all means the same thing: that intangible quality that enables a team to thrive under adversity.
For the first month of the season, when they hit the road with an us-against-the-world mentality, the Pacers had it. Since that five-game losing streak last month, however, it has been missing.
Consider the words of Larry Bird at the All-Star break:
"We had a tough schedule with all the road games but I thought the way they handled it, they went out to win games, they didn't go out to play games, that they had a swagger that they thought they could beat anybody. … I want them to get their swagger back, get to where they feel they can beat anybody and continue to get better going into the playoffs."
It now seems obvious that the six-game win streak, built against some of the league's worst teams, did not rebuild the swagger. The Pacers came out flat in Chicago, failed to seize a golden opportunity to build a substantial first-half lead and subsequently were pummeled in the second half. They returned home Tuesday and were outworked by a seriously shorthanded Atlanta team.
And so now they have a two-game losing streak heading into a weekend back-to-back in Florida against Miami and Orlando. Clearly, this is no time for the Pacers to be dealing with a crisis in confidence.
"This is the second time we've done this, in terms of win a few games in a row and the minute we lose one, the bottom kind of falls out," David West said. "We've got to be stronger than that. In terms of our preparation, we've got to be prepared to bounce back. We had tough loss (Monday) night; that shouldn't have affected the way we came out (against Atlanta). The game got away with us, it was 14 or 16 at one point and we were able to close it back but it shouldn't have gotten to that point.
"We've got to continue to improve. The only thing we can do is let losses like this go, not let them linger. We've got to figure out a way to recover. You can't just let it all go with just one loss."
The symptoms are easy to identify. In losing their last six against teams with winning record, several common threads have unraveled.
Defense and rebounding, the anchors of this team, has slipped. They've allowed 101.0 points and .467 shooting in their six-game skid against winning teams. They've been outrebounded by 59 and outscored by 31 on second-chance points in those same six games.
Here's the thing about wanting to be a physical team: once you establish that as your style, opponents are going to respond. The Pacers delivered smash-mouth basketball early in the season, but they have taken more than a few hits of late. If you dish it out, you'd better be prepared to take it.
So how does a team get its swagger back?
"You build your level of execution," Coach Frank Vogel said. "You practice, you watch tape, you do all the little things that make sense. You know if you do these things you're going to win the game. The more we can build those habits that's where your confidence and swagger comes from.
"It's about execution. It's that simple. You continue to build the habits of winning basketball. The more you build those habits the more confidence they have in themselves. It's that simple."
In the pursuit of homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs, there is no margin for error. That point was driven home Monday, when a single loss to the Bulls dropped the Pacers from third to fifth. Losing to Atlanta left the gap over the sixth-place Hawks at one-half game.
"Just got to work," Vogel said. "Can't work (Wednesday) because we just had a back-to-back but we're going to have a film session and we're going to watch it and get better in the film room. We're going to practice Thursday and we're going to get better then. Get back to work and we'll be all right."