NBA@2: The Key To Indiana’s Success
And now a quick break from the media-wide excuse-making for the Miami HEAT.
In many ways, the Miami HEAT served as a measuring stick for the Indiana Pacers this season. Due to Derrick Rose’s injuries, the HEAT were the gold standard in the Eastern Conference, and the way the Pacers handled their regular-season games against Miami showed their growth throughout the 2011-12 NBA season.
The first meeting of the season came on January 4th, when a HEAT team playing without Dwyane Wade blew out the Pacers 118-83. Their February 14th meeting wasn’t quite as humbling, but it was no Valentine to the Pacers’ home crowd, either. HEAT rookie Norris Cole scored 20 points off the bench to help Miami deal a 105-90 loss to the home team. When March 10th rolled around, the Pacers looked much more prepared for Miami. Five Pacers scored in double-figures, compared to just three for Miami (yes, those three) and the HEAT escaped with a 93-91 win.
After cutting their deficits from 35 to 15 and then to two, the Pacers felt they had figured something out about Miami, and were eager to test that theory in their final regular season meeting. Indiana used tough defense and superior depth to finally get over the top and slay their foe, 105-90. They seemed to have found a recipe for success against a team that they were almost certain to face in postseason play, and of course, that’s exactly who they’re facing now.
As in that last regular-season meeting, the Pacers have handled Miami while taking a 2-1 lead in their best-of-seven playoff series. Wade and LeBron James took out Indiana almost by themselves in Game 1, combining for 61 points, but the Pacers bounced back quickly. Indiana allowed 20 fewer points in Game 2, thanks in large part of the defense of Paul George on Wade (8-for-22), the interior defense of Roy Hibbert and the perimeter defense that forced Miami to his just one of their 16 three-point tries.
Game 4 was even more of the same. Having had success inside, the Pacers made Hibbert a much bigger part of their offense, and he responded with 19 points, 18 rebounds and five blocks in leading Indiana to a 94-75 win. Danny Granger stepped up his defense of James, who scored just 22 points on 10-for-22 shooting, George frustrated Wade (2-for-13 with five points) to no end and the HEAT went down in flames.
Two wins do not a series make, but the recipe for success that has led Indiana to three wins over Miami in their last four tries is something that can certainly be replicated two more times.
It helps that HEAT forward Chris Bosh is out of action due to an abdominal strain. Hibbert would normally be spending much of his time chasing Bosh, but has now been turned loose in the paint.
“Without (Bosh) in the game, I can wander a little bit more and make the paint look a little more crowded and block more shots,” Hibbert said to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst. “When he’s there I have to respect his ability.”
Pacers head coach Frank Vogel has been like a broken record in this series, preaching defense and rebounding as the keys to beating Miami. He couldn’t have been more thrilled by Hibbert’s performance.
“The game was won once again with defense and rebounding,” Vogel said post-game. “That’s what this team’s identity is about, led by Roy Hibbert who anchored our paint, five blocked shots, 19 points, 18 boards, one of the best games I’ve ever seen him play.”
Hibbert has also become something of a vocal leader, and his teammates have begun embracing his unflappable attitude towards the defensive end of the court.
“That’s why he’s an All-Star this year,” George Hill said. “He’s a big part of this team, not just scoring but defensively. His favorite saying is ‘send them to Big Dog.’ When we’re in trouble, he’s our bail-out.”
The t-shirts given away to Pacers fans attending Game 3 bore the words “Gold Swagger,” and thanks to the toughness and intensity the Pacers have shown, that mantra has served them well.
If they can capture two more wins in this series, we might just see Gold Swagger spread far beyond the Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The Pacers just might become the new darlings of NBA fans if they can hand the HEAT another premature exit from the postseason.
Right Player, Right Time For Clippers
The Los Angeles Clippers may be on the ropes in their series against the San Antonio Spurs, but that’s not something we didn’t anticipate. There’s a reason the Spurs owned the West’s best record, and they have won 16 games in a row dating back to April 11th. That doesn’t mean there haven’t been plenty of positives for the Clippers, who made their triumphant return to the playoffs this season after a five-year absence and advanced to the second round for just the second time since 1976.
One of the big positives for L.A. this season was the addition of Nick Young, whom they acquired at the NBA trade deadline. Young stepped in to help fill the void left by Chauncey Billups’ season-ending injury, and he couldn’t be happier to be competing in the playoffs.
“It’s big,” Young tells HOOPSWORLD. “It feels good, playing in the post season, playing a champion team, coming from where we weren’t winning games. I didn’t think I’d be right here so it’s a blessing.”
“Young was a good pickup for us for what we had to give up to get him,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “He’s made some big shots for us, you have to guard him, he can score the basketball in bunches. He has good length for us so he can play some two, some three, we can spread him out because he can shoot, so he’s been a plus for us, no question.”
When Young arrived in Los Angeles there were rumors floating around that Del Negro might be on his way out. He admits he was a little worried that if the team started losing they might blame the guy from the Washington Wizards.
“When I first came here, the team was going through something,” Young recalls. “I heard the rumors with the firing and but I was like, come on, don’t let me get on this team now and start losing. They might start blaming me, so I was a little worried, but we picked it up and we started getting in that groove together.”
One thing the Clippers have that the Wizards lacked is great leadership on the court, and it’s something Young noticed right away.
“I’d say that’s Chris (Paul),” says Young. “Just being around, being on the team, I’ve seen great leadership and what it takes. He’s got to put that ball in the hole and the whole defense is keyed around him so it takes a lot.”
It’s never easy to adjust to a new team on the fly, especially during a lockout shortened season like 2011-12, where practice time is at a bare minimum. It helped Young to have a number of veterans to lean on, especially former Wizards teammate Caron Butler.
“It helps just having the right guys around,” Young said. “We’ve got Kenyon (Martin), he’s been in the playoffs a while, Reggie (Evans), Chauncey (Billups), even with him being out just being on the bench, and plus Caron. Me having a relationship with Caron it helped out a lot.”
The Clippers are now in a pretty big hole, down 0-2 after being blown out twice by the Spurs. The series now swings to Los Angeles, where Young is confident his team can get back on track.
“We never give up,” Young said. “We’ve been in situations like this, where we’ve been down like twenty-some, and we fought back. We’ve just got to keep our heads up and not get discouraged from the game.”
Games 3 and 4 are back-to-back on Saturday and Sunday.
The Twelfth Pick In the 2012 NBA Draft
If the NBA Draft Lottery goes as the odds say they should (which it rarely does), the Milwaukee Bucks should have the twelfth overall pick in this summer’s NBA draft. Assuming they actually do land the that pick, which player best fits their needs?
HOOPSWORLD’s Mock Draft team is divided, with no two experts picking the same player for Milwaukee. It makes sense that the Bucks would think front court, as they solidified their backcourt with the trade that sent Andrew Bogut to Golden State and brought Monta Ellis to Milwaukee. The team’s biggest need is at center, so Tyler Zeller makes a great deal of sense. John Henson may also be on the board at 12, and while he might turn out to be the better pro, the Bucks have plenty of options at the four and not much going on at the five.
Last season, the Bucks ranked 29th in the NBA in low-post offense and 19th in offensive put-backs, largely due to the absence of a big, physical front court player to own those stats. Zeller needs to add some bulk, but he can certainly help Milwaukee improve in those areas.
Zeller was among the best offensive players in the college ranks last season, ranking in the 90th percentile overall. His strength was the transition game, where he ranked in the 99th percentile and shot 79 percent from the field, making him an ideal candidate to play with the run-and-gun backcourt of Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings. He ranked in the 88th percentile on scoring off of cuts to the basket and the 66th percentile when posting up. He also got 18 percent of his points on offensive put-backs, potentially filling yet another void in Milwaukee’s attack.
Defensively, Zeller ranked in the 73rd percentile overall, and specialized in low post (75th percentile) and isolation (76th) defense. He also ranked in the 80th percentile in defending against post shots when the shot clock was under four seconds. He’s not much of a shot-blocker and will likely get muscled out of the way by the likes of Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum, but he showed signs of improving as a senior and his understanding of positioning will help him compensate.
Zeller is certainly not the best center in this draft class, but assuming the Bucks don’t move up via the lottery he will likely be the best center and the best player on the board for Milwaukee.
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