NBA AM: Pacers Emerging as Contender?
Roy Hibbert thought he was going to block Kobe Bryant. As soon as Hibbert saw Bryant slash to the basket, he rotated, jumped straight in the air and extended his arms. If Bryant had released the ball, Hibbert likely would’ve sent it flying into the stands. Instead, the league’s leading scorer pump faked as Hibbert was descending, causing a collision between elbow and nose. Blood immediately poured down the center’s upper lip and he left the game with a broken nose.
Midway through the second quarter, the Los Angeles Lakers took a ten-point lead over the Indiana Pacers and Hibbert had seen enough. He shoved some cotton in his nose and checked back into the game, even though Indiana’s doctors told Hibbert he shouldn’t play. The 25-year-old carried the Pacers in the second half, finishing with a team-high 18 points and 8 rebounds in the 98-96 win.
The Pacers are now 11-4 and have shown that they’re willing to do whatever it takes to win games, as Hibbert perfectly demonstrated. One month into the season, head coach Frank Vogel has been extremely impressed with his team’s determination and tenacity.
“It was a valiant effort by Roy Hibbert after getting a broken nose in the first half and coming back to really carry us in the second half, but this is what our team is all about,” Vogel said. “It’s not about a super team of superstars; it’s about a balanced attack. We share the ball and we win the rebounding wars most nights. This team has an incredible desire to compete and to win, collectively. This team just has a collective mindset of grit and determination, to get the job done. They know that this can be a special year and I’ve never been around a team with the desire this team has.”
In recent years, the Pacers have been viewed as a promising, up-and-coming team. However, entering this offseason, the team wanted to take the next step and make a move that would allow them to become a legitimate contender. Indiana recruited David West and, after convincing him that they were ready to compete in the Eastern Conference, signed him to a two-year deal worth $20 million. West is averaging 11.6 points and 6.7 rebounds, even though he’s playing his first games since knee surgery. His ability to knock down midrange jumpers and pass out of the post has improved the Pacers’ offense.
“We’ve got two of the best big men in the league right now in Roy Hibbert and David West,” Paul George said. “When they get the ball, the defense collapses and that leaves us with good looks.”
This is the first time since 1999 that the Pacers have road victories against the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics in the same season. That was also the last time Indiana posted a winning record on a West Coast trip, prior to last night. The Pacers are making significant improvements and the team is growing more and more confident with each big win.
“We’ve come really far,” Danny Granger said after the win against the Lakers. “This game wasn’t a surprise for us. We’re 11-4 right now and we feel like we should be 13-2. We come into arenas expecting a win; we don’t come in as underdogs.”
The Pacers have emerged as a top team in the East and the best is yet to come in Indiana. Following the win against the Lakers, Hibbert stuffed his nose with cotton and confidently told reporters, “We’re only getting better.”
That’s a scary thought for the rest of the league.
Changing the Rookie-Sophomore Game: The NBA’s Rookie Challenge has been tweaked several times over the years. When the game was first added to All-Star Weekend in 1994, it was simply called the “Rookie Game” and featured two teams made up entirely of rookies. In 2000, the current format was adapted, pitting the top rookies against the top sophomores. Over the years, the games have been competitive, with the sophomores leading the all-time series 8-4 but losing the last two showdowns.
Now, it sounds like the NBA is changing the game’s format once again.
There have been rumblings that this year’s Rookie-Sophomore game won’t pit the two draft classes against each other, but rather feature two teams with a combination of rookies and sophomores. We’re hearing that two TNT personalities – possibly Charles Barkely and Shaquille O’Neal – will assemble the teams from the pool of selected players and coach the squads, as well. That means we could see Kyrie Irving throwing alley oops to Blake Griffin or John Wall running a fastbreak with MarShon Brooks.
Not only will this make the game more interesting, it’ll also be more competitive. In the past, some of the individual match-ups have been hard to watch. Last year, for example, the sophomores lacked a true center so they were dominated by DeMarcus Cousins and Greg Monroe. This year, assuming the league uses this new format, the teams should be much more balanced.
An official announcement detailing the changes could come in the next few weeks, as All-Star Weekend approaches.
McRoberts Adjusting in Los Angeles: Josh McRoberts was born and raised in Indianapolis and played the majority of his career with the Indiana Pacers prior to this year. Now, after signing with the Los Angeles Lakers over the offseason, McRoberts is adjusting to life in a new environment.
“I’ll always be from Indianapolis,” McRoberts said with a smile. “I’m not used to being in Los Angeles.”
What has been the biggest difference between Indiana and Los Angeles?
“I definitely get noticed more, recognized more, when I’m going to different places,” McRoberts said.
While McRoberts hasn’t gotten used to the city just yet, he has been impressed with the organization. He received interest from a number of other teams in free agency but he and his agent, Greg Lawrence, felt that Los Angeles was the best situation for him going forward.
“It’s a great organization,” McRoberts said. “I’m still getting used to being here, but it’s really an honor to play with the talent that we have here. My agent called me and said, ‘You’re going to L.A.’ I’m glad it happened. I’m really happy to be here.”
After a condensed preseason, McRoberts was forced to learn on the fly. He hasn’t had too much trouble picking up Mike Brown’s system and meshing with his new teammates. McRoberts has been a solid contributor off of the bench through the first month of the season.
“The guys have been great,” McRoberts said. “We’re all learning a new system, but the team has been great. The guys have been really welcoming and I really feel comfortable here.”
NBA Chats: There are three NBA chats scheduled for today starting with HOOPSWORLD’s Bill Ingram at 11 a.m ET. Next up, HOOPSWORLD’s Stephen Brotherston holds down his weekly chat at 3 p.m. ET. HOOPSWORLD editor Jason Fleming rounds out the day with his weekly NBA chat at 8 p.m. ET. You can always find the next NBA chats here.