As the Pacers headed west for a four-game road trip, their focus was to improve an offense that was foundering near the bottom of the NBA. The ball wasn’t moving, shots weren’t falling, and frustration was rising.
As good as the defense had been – and it was statistically the NBA’s best – the offense just wasn’t getting it done.
They scratched out 82 points at Memphis in a victory, and then bottomed out with 80 points in a 20-point loss at Portland. This, of course, gave Frank Vogel just what he needed:
Game film to use as an example, in this case of what not to do.
All of a sudden, the offensive jugger-not became a juggernaut.
In a 111-101 victory over Chicago Monday, the Pacers topped 100 points for the fourth time in the five games since – and they scored 98 in the other.
They’ve shot better than 50 percent three times in that span – something they’d done just once in the first 43 games.
“We made a commitment to the extra pass,” Vogel said. “We had a lot of film sessions and talks about it on the West Coast. We wanted it going into the Portland game, had a heavy emphasis on it and it was glaring how much we didn’t look for the extra pass in that game.
“Ever since then, guys have really been playing for each other and when the ball’s moving, we’ve got too many weapons to be as (inefficient) as we’ve been this year.”
WEST SURGING AS PAINT PRODUCTION INCREASES
The primary individual beneficiary has been David West, who racked up 59 points against the Heat and Bulls and has averaged 22.8 on 61 percent shooting in the last five.
But Lance Stephenson (15.0 points, 58 percent shooting in the last four) has likewise surged, particularly as the locomotive that pulls the train in transition.
George Hill has shot 56 percent and averaged 16.6 in the last five, while Paul George has been steady at 18.4 points and 46 percent.
Collectively, the biggest impact has been inside. The Pacers have averaged 46.0 points in the paint in the last five games; their average prior to that was 38.5, in the league’s bottom five.
“We’re just developing a chemistry with one another, trying to play at a high level,” West said. “(Assistant) coach (Brian) Shaw said maybe a week or so ago we need to establish what type of team we’re going to be heading into the All-Star break. The good teams finish strong going into the break so we’re just trying to live up to that.
“We’ve made some adjustments, changed the way we flow on offense and every day the coaches are working us, introducing stuff to us and we’re doing what we can to adjust on the fly. We’ve got a high basketball IQ in this locker room so guys are able to make adjustments and it’s paying dividends for us.”
UNBEATEN AGAINST HEAT, BULLS
In the process, the Pacers have taken 2-0 series leads on both the Heat and the Bulls, clinching the season series with Miami and assuring at least a split with Chicago, factors that could be critical in what promises to be a razor’s-edge battle for homecourt advantage in the Eastern Conference playoff bracket.
At 29-19 they’re tied with the Bulls atop the Central Division.
“I really feel like the final two games (between the teams) are going to dictate who wins this division,” Vogel said. “Both of us are going to be right there at the end. I’m not sure when those games are (March 3 at home and March 23 in Chicago) but the head-to-head matchups are going to be how this division’s going to be decided.”
With Danny Granger due back soon, possibly next week, the offense will regain a significant weapon. Combine the new scoring punch with the already established defense, and the Pacers feel pretty good about their prospects.
“The good thing is you have the foundation in place,” Vogel said. “It’s just about tightening the screws and getting back to the emphasis we had early in the season on the defensive end. We know we can do it, it’s just a matter of putting the offense together the way it’s playing and tightening the screws on D.
“We’ve got a chance to be pretty good.”
For once, he was actually understating it. They already are pretty good. They have a chance to be much better.