Brandon Tierney has some advice for Pacers coach Frank Vogel, who will coach the Eastern Conference in the All-Star Game in New Orleans on Feb. 16:
Play Paul George and Roy Hibbert for five minutes, and then play LeBron James and Dwayne Wade for 43.
“Forty-three?” Vogel griped on The Morning Show. “Why not 48?
Vogel, who was being facetious, was given the honor after the Pacers’ win over the Kings on Tuesday. At 30-7, Indianapolis has the best record in basketball.
Surely, Vogel thought his team would be successful this season, but did he think they’d be this good?
“Probably not to this level,” he admitted. “I’ve had a great deal of belief in this basketball team for the last couple years that we could achieve great things. Being a game from the NBA Finals (last year), we really felt good about what we had as a core, and we really liked the offseason moves that Larry Bird made. So we had high expectations, but I’m not sure anybody expected us to be this far ahead right now.”
Still, Vogel isn’t satisfied with his team’s performances.
“There’s a million areas we feel like we can get better at,” he said. “There’s never a perfect basketball team. We’re really good defensively, but there are still some areas where we could get better. And offensively, we got to make sure we’re not beating ourselves.”
Vogel’s two biggest concerns are turnovers – the Pacers commit 15 a game, which is the seventh-most in basketball – and fouls.
“We’ve just got to be as consistent as possible in those two areas,” Vogel said, “and when we do what we do, we’re pretty tough to beat.”
Of course, it’s hard to fault the Pacers for their mental miscues, as the East – with 11 of 15 teams under .500 – is as bad as it’s ever been.
Then again, the Pacers have just a three-game lead over Miami (27-10).
“We’ve got a goal that we’re hanging onto right now that’s kind of driving us each night, and that’s to earn home-court advantage,” Vogel said. “We think it could be a difference-maker come playoff time against some of these teams.
“And we understood what the Miami Heat accomplished last year, winning 66 games (and) going on a (27)-game win streak. We feel like that could easily happen again at any time, so we never feel safe about whatever kind of lead we have in the standings. We feel like every single night could be the difference between having home-court advantage and not having it. So our guys are really keeping that laser focus.”
Many analysts feel it’s a foregone conclusion that the Pacers and Heat will meet in the Eastern Conference Finals. Vogel isn’t willing to go that far just yet.
“It’s tough to say,” he said. “And I understand why you would feel that way, but there’s always teams that hit their stride. We really honestly don’t look at it like it’s a foregone conclusion. We know we’re going to have to play some tough series leading up to that.”
It definitely helps having Paul George, though. The 23-year-old is ninth in the league with 22.8 points per game and is also averaging 6.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists and a team-high 1.9 steals.
Following the Pacers’ Game 7 loss to the Heat last June, George told Vogel that he wanted to be an MVP candidate and win an NBA title in 2014.
“It’s really been remarkable to be a part of and be around,” Vogel said. “He’s just such a refreshing young man to be around with his work ethic and team-first mentality and his likability. He’s just beloved by his teammates and our fans around here.
“It’s a special thing. It’s something I’m really embracing, and it’s really driving our team.”