Central Division rival Pacers dealing with their own injured-star woes
December 4, 2012, 6:57 pm
Heading into this season, the Pacers were supposed to be the class of the Central Division, capitalizing on Derrick Rose’s extended absence in Chicago.
However, due to a major injury of their own—go-to scorer Danny Granger, their starting small forward, is out indefinitely with severe knee soreness and reportedly won’t return until the next calendar year—Indiana got off to a slow start.
They have since recovered from an early swoon that saw center Roy Hibbert, coming off an All-Star season and a maximum contract extension over the summer, seemingly regress and the team’s multiple newcomers—an overlooked aspect, as the Pacers have an almost entirely new bench, with the exception of holdover Tyler Hansbrough, a frequent Bulls antagonist—struggle to adjust to their new roles. Indiana is now 8-9, including a buzzer-beating win over the Lakers in Los Angeles, coming into Tuesday’s showdown against the Bulls at the United Center.
“I think more than anything, I think it’s just an opportunity for us to get a quality win against a good basketball team,” veteran power forward David West told CSNChicago.com at the team’s morning shootaround at the United Center. “We know they’re not at full strength either, but again, they’re very capable. We’re fighting for the division and it’s just a game that’s on our schedule, that we have to do all we can to come out and try to get a win.”
“We’re trying to fill in the gaps where we can, get some guys in positions, get them some experience that they haven’t had and guys get an opportunity to play. That’s what happens in the league when one of your main guys goes down. Other guys get an opportunity to play, step up and again, we started off rough, but I think guys are doing a better job getting into a flow. We’ve had to adjust the offense to make some inroads, in terms of being able to compete and get wins,” he continued.
“Again, anytime you bring guys into a system, there’s always an adjustment period, but it’s still early and we know what type of talent and capability we have on this basketball team, and we feel like we’ll get in the right flow as the year wears on and obviously, you don’t want to be playing your best basketball right now. You want to be playing your best ball later in the year. We feel like we have the team that’s built to do that and hopefully we can pick ups wins when we go out, play the game the right way, but as the year wears on, get better.
“Obviously you want to do better than you did the year before. I thought a key to our success last year was that we were just healthy. We didn’t have any guys miss games. Obviously that’s not the case this year, but we’re building toward the end goal and that’s to be full strength as the year wears on, and hopefully fight for one of the top playoff spots. We don’t feel like that’s out of the grasp or out of the realm of reality for us.”
West was an All-Star with his previous team, New Orleans, and appears headed back to that form early in the season, as well as taking over a more vocal leadership following a season in which he was still recovering from an ACL injury with the Hornets. Now in a contract year—he signed a two-year deal after the lockout and is now poised to be one of the better free agents on the market next summer—he’s been able to put his stamp on the young Pacers.
“I wasn’t really healthy, in terms of being able to do what I wanted to do last year, really until the last month of the season. Having an opportunity to have a full summer to just work out, play, improve and then have a full training camp, full preseason, it just helps,” he explained. “Obviously just feeling more confident in my leg, confident in what I can do, that’s contributed to some of the success that I’ve had early on.”
Pacers head coach Frank Vogel, who was just the interim coach when Indiana faced off with the Bulls in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs two years ago, now has experience to go with his youthful enthusiasm on the sidelines. Vogel understands that meshing together a retooled roster and continuing to develop young talent, including athletic swingman Paul George, is crucial, even as Indiana deals with preseason expectations.
“Even the end of last year, we got to a point where we sort of the hunted because we were playing so well, so I think we got used to it, got a taste of it at the end of last year. Coming into this year, it’s a double-edged sword. You’ve got the expectations and then, you’ve got to deal with readjusting with Danny being out, so it’s been a little bit of a struggle, but I feel good about the fact that we’re remaking our identity and I think that we’ve got some good basketball ahead of us,” he told CSNChicago.com. “Guys are just trying to play the team approach. No one guy can make up for Danny Granger’s absence. We’ve just got to move the basketball, share it and make up for it as a team.”
Vogel believes that the Central Division will be a hard-fought race until the end, with the Bucks also factoring in, as the Bulls and Pacers try to hold down the fort without their injured stars.
“Milwaukee’s playing great basketball, too. They’re right up there,” he said. “Obviously us and Chicago are right around that .500 mark. It’s going to be an interesting fight.”
Tags: Tom Thibodeau
, Derrick Rose
, Indiana Pacers
, Danny Granger
, Chicago Bulls
, Roy Hibbert
, Darren Collison
, Frank Vogel