Pacers on Keys to Recent Hot Streak

Nov. 22, 2017 - The Pacers break down the keys to their strong play during their four-game winning streak and look ahead to games this weekend against East leaders Toronto and Brooklyn.

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Pacers on Keys to Recent Hot Streak

Nov. 22, 2017 - The Pacers break down the keys to their strong play during their four-game winning streak and look ahead to games this weekend against East leaders Toronto and Brooklyn.
Nov 22, 2017  |  02:00

Bogdanovic Making Big Impact in Indiana

Nov. 22, 2017 - Darren Collison and Nate McMillan share their impressions of new Pacers sharpshooter Bojan Bogdanovic, then Bogdanovic talks about his strong play.
Nov 22, 2017  |  02:04

Pacers Coming Together, and Quickly

by Mark Montieth Writer

A 10-8 record might not seem like much to be thankful for, but the Pacers are immersed in the spirit of the holiday. Their four-game winning streak, which includes three road victories, has injected a dose of good cheer and adrenaline into a team that too often over the past few seasons played as if it had overdosed on tryptophan.

It wasn't supposed to happen this quickly, was it? Was it even supposed to happen at all? A team widely projected to win fewer than 35 games before the season began has a winning record heading into a month-long stretch in which it plays nine of its next 11 games at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. That makes for a glowing opportunity to fatten the winning record to the point a playoff position can be maintained merely by winning about half of the remaining games.

The next two games happen to be against the top two teams in the Eastern Conference — Toronto on Friday and Boston on Saturday. After road trip to Houston and Toronto next week, the next six will be played at home. They will know more about themselves by how they handle that friendly stretch of pavement, but for now they know this much: they like where they are headed, and like who they're going with.

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Darren Collison has played nine NBA seasons, for six teams if you count his two stops with the Pacers separately. He's never seen anything quite like he's experiencing now.

"I've never seen a team (come together) this quick," he said following Wednesday's practice at St. Vincent Center. "Even the best teams with the best talent, like OKC, and the old days when LeBron was in Miami, it took a long time for them to jell. I'm not saying we're as talented as they are, but when you're building a new team it does take a while. The way we're jelling right now is definitely amazing."

The jelling process has been most evident in the last six halves. The Pacers overcame a 22-point third-quarter deficit to beat Detroit last Friday, then defeated Miami and Orlando in back-to-back games with certainty. The offense is humming — they lead the NBA in 3-point shooting — and the defense is improving.
Both are the result of communication and collaboration.

"Guys are genuinely positive and want each other to do well," Collison said. "You look at each individual, everybody cares. It sounds cliché, but I think that goes as long way. When you have good human beings on a team and they want to play with each other and work hard and come in every day and practice, it makes the coaches' job easier and everybody's job on the team easier as well.

"Usually it might happen five out of 15 (players) that aren't on the same page, doing their own thing. Even the guys who aren't playing — Joe Young, Ike (Anigbogu) — they're all supportive. Obviously, they want to play but they're all in it for the team. This is a unique team. Win or lose, this is one of the best chemistry teams I've been on."

Nothing frays teams like persistent defeat, which picks at a team's loose threads. Guys who aren't playing, or playing the role they want, have more reason to complain, and fingers tend to get pointed at the best players. This team, however, claims to have pulled more after its four-game losing streak earlier in the month.

Although Thaddeus Young and Myles Turner were elected co-captains by their teammates, Collison and Victor Oladipo have shown plenty of leadership. So has Al Jefferson, who's currently out of the playing rotation but has been a constant mentor to younger players, particularly the centers, Turner and Domantas Sabonis.

"When something needs to be said, we all step up," Young said. "That's the biggest thing between this year and last year: we're holding each other accountable. We're making sure we're sticking to the game plan. When we start to shy away from it, that's when we lose games.

"After losses, we just talk. We try to figure it out. We go back to the drawing board. We're all committed to doing things better each and every day. When we drop games, we feel it wasn't the other team, it was us. We took ourselves out of our offense, we took ourselves out of our defensive schemes. We look at it as self-inflicted pains we have to go through.

"We're slowly coming along."

The challenge for McMillan has become the "good problem" of parceling minutes to qualified players. He tightened the rotation in the games in Florida, giving quality minutes to just eight. The purpose was to ensure ample minutes for Sabonis, who has delivered more consistently than any Pacers player, and get more minutes for Lance Stephenson and Bojan Bogdanovic, both of whom have played better as the season has progressed.

That's left promising rookie TJ Leaf out of the mix, but Jefferson and Young have been in his ear, telling him to be patient.

Bogdanovic has been something of a revelation to Pacers fans, understandably so. In 10 games against them while playing for Brooklyn and Washington, he averaged just 7.6 points on 34 percent shooting. He's not only been a better scorer than anticipated, he's been a better ballhandler and defender. He moves well without the ball, finding seams in the defense to collect passes for open 3-pointers, but can take defenders off the dribble when they approach him too aggressively.

McMillan has played Bogdanovic some at "four" lately to stretch defenses, but has gotten results wherever he's put him. Meanwhile, getting more minutes has only boosted Bogdanovic's confidence. He's averaging a career-high 14.9 points while hitting 48 percent of his 3-pointers. If he can maintain that percentage over the long season, he'll break Chris Mullin's single-season franchise record for 3-point accuracy, .465. Over the last four games, with extended playing time in the last three, Bogdanovic has averaged 20.8 points on 60 percent shooting, hitting 62 percent of his 3-pointers.

"We learn about him each game," McMillan said. "He's been known as a guy who can score and shoot the ball. We're trying to develop him into a guy who also is having to guard the big twos and threes."

Bogdanovic signed with the Pacers over the summer because they offered him first crack at a starting position, while other teams wanted to stuff him into a role player's box. He's embraced the opportunity to expand his game. Imagine the surprise of fans in Brooklyn and Washington D.C. to hear him direct the conversation directly to defense when asked about the team's current winning streak.

"We have to stick with our defense and have great energy on the defensive end," he said. "I hit many open fastbreak shots from our good defense."

Shooters are talking about defense. Players are talking to one another after losses. Players who aren't playing are staying onboard. Veterans are helping rookies.

It's early, and they're only 10-8. But the Pacers' cup is beginning to run over.

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


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