Pacers Put Struggles Behind Them
The Indiana Pacers didn’t look like a contender over the final two months of the 2013-14 season. Indiana struggled mightily down the stretch, stalling on the offensive end and dropping nine of 13 games at one point. Even worse, the Pacers seemed to implode, with Roy Hibbert calling his teammates “selfish” and Lance Stephenson and George Hill reportedly having to be separated during a blowout loss.
The stretch was ugly, but the Pacers still managed to finish the season as the number one seed in the Eastern Conference and they recently picked up an impressive win against the Oklahoma City Thunder to regain some of their confidence heading into the postseason. The Pacers believe that their slump is over, and the message coming out of their locker room is that they have what it takes to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy this season, especially now that they have homecourt advantage through the Eastern Conference Finals.
Being the top seed in the conference was a goal for the Pacers all season, and it does give them a significant edge in the playoffs. Last season, Indiana lost a tough Game 7 on the road against the Miami HEAT. They were so close to advancing to the NBA Finals, but couldn’t take down Miami in their building. Now, teams will have to come through their building in the event of a Game 7, which gives them a lot of confidence considering their 35-6 home record was the best in the NBA this season.
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Despite the late-season slump, the Pacers still think this could be their year. When asked if Indiana now has what it takes to win it all, Paul George nodded.
“Yeah, I think so,” George said. “We have another year of experience, you add in some veterans like [Luis] Scola and Rasual [Butler], you add a sharpshooter like [Chris] Copeland, you add some great players like Evan [Turner] and Lavoy [Allen], we’ve assembled a great roster this year. I think Larry [Bird] and the front office did a great job going all-in on this year. … [Homecourt advantage] gives us a better opportunity, a better chance. We like our chances being able to play a seven-game series with the advantage being at home. It’s huge. We understand that we’re going to have to win tough games and win in some tough arenas on the road, but it gives us the great advantage of playing at home in each Eastern round. We have the best record playing at home, and we like our chances playing at home.”
“That’s what we’re hoping,” David West added. “We want to be almost unbeatable in our own building and we’ve been able to do that, for the most part, throughout the year. With the playoffs approaching, we want to keep that going.”
“It’ll be good for us, but we have to win on the road too,” Hibbert said. “We’ve had trouble with that in the latter part of the season, but we’re up for the challenge. We’ve been tested. In the playoffs, you’re playing the same team a number of times and it’s not like you have back-to-backs or four games in five nights. It’s going to be a process, it’s going to be a grind, but we’ve been through that so we’re ready.”
A number of Pacers players said that the team’s recent issues were overblown and media-driven. However, they did admit that they were able to learn some things from the struggles.
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“Sometimes adversity is just thrown [around] by the media,” Evan Turner said. “We still have a great team, we still have one of the best home records in the NBA and we still ended up getting first place in the Eastern Conference. Every team hits their hurdles. We just need to stay together and stay focused. … I think we learned that our communication was big, and that our belief in each other was even bigger. That’s the biggest thing.”
“We definitely learned to never take anything for granted,” George Hill said. “No matter how high we get or how low we get, we need to stay together and play every game like it’s our last. It’s a new season now, we’re 0-0 and it’s first to 16 [wins]. We need to go out there and play each game, and try to be the first team to win 16. That’s our goal right now.”
“I thought we stayed the course,” West said. “The NBA has a long season, 82 games is a grind, but I thought we did a good job of staying the course and staying connected. We didn’t get too low, even when things looked really, really bad. I thought we did a great job of pulling for one another and ultimately we were able to win enough games down the stretch to accomplish our goal [of securing the East’s top seed].”
“We had our struggles, but we still ended up being the number one seed,” Hibbert said. “We did what we had to do in the beginning of the season. Every team has their ups and downs, we just had our downs at the end. Now, we’re ready to move on and just play good basketball in the playoffs.”
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The Pacers will open the playoffs against the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday. George believes that Indiana’s elite defense and ability to take away a team’s strengths make the Pacers a scary team in the postseason.
“We’re smart,” George said. “Our IQ as a whole is great. Throughout a series, we do a great job of limiting things that teams like to go do and limiting guys. [We’re capable of] really just neutralizing them.”
With their recent struggles, Indiana is no longer the sexy pick to win it all like they were earlier in the season. However, Indiana is still capable of playing elite basketball, as we’ve seen throughout the course of the season. The players are confident that the dominant, early-season Pacers will show up in the postseason rather than dreadful, late-season Pacers. If that’s true, this could be the year that Indiana takes down Miami and plays on basketball’s biggest stage in June.
James Has Most Popular Jersey
Miami HEAT forward LeBron James once again tops the NBA’s list of most popular jerseys, where he has reigned as No. 1 since winning his second NBA title. The two-time NBA Finals MVP, who has held the top position six times, is joined by nine players that will compete in the 2014 NBA Playoffs beginning on April 19. The rankings are based on overall retail sales on NBAStore.com since the beginning of the 2013-14 season.
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Rounding out the top five are the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Kevin Durant (No. 2), the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant (No. 3), the Chicago Bulls’ Derrick Rose (No. 4) and the Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry (No. 5). Bryant and Rose appear in the top five despite only playing in a handful of games due to injuries.
Since winning back-to-back championships in 2013, the HEAT has held the top spot for best-selling team merchandise, followed by the Lakers at No. 2, the Bulls at No. 3, the Thunder at No. 4 and the Knicks at No. 5.
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Here are the lists for most popular jerseys and the most popular team merchandise:
Most Popular Jerseys
1. LeBron James, Miami HEAT
2. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
3. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
4. Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
5. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
6. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
7. Dwyane Wade, Miami HEAT
8. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
9. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
10. James Harden, Houston Rockets
11. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers
12. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
13. Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics
14. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
15. Paul George, Indiana Pacers
Most Popular Team Merchandise
1. Miami HEAT
2. Los Angeles Lakers
3. Chicago Bulls
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
5. New York Knicks
6. Boston Celtics
7. Brooklyn Nets
8. Golden State Warriors
9. San Antonio Spurs
10. Los Angeles Clippers
Clifford, Joerger Named Coaches of the Month
The Charlotte Bobcats’ Steve Clifford and the Memphis Grizzlies’ Dave Joerger today were named the NBA Eastern and Western Conference Coaches of the Month, respectively, for games played in April.
Clifford guided the Bobcats to the league’s best record in April at 7-1 (.875). Charlotte notched wins over three playoff teams during the month, beating the Washington Wizards, Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls. The Bobcats were a perfect 3-0 in overtime games in April. Clifford’s team, which posted a 43-39 record for the year and garnered the seven seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs, enters the postseason on a three-game winning streak.
Joerger led the Grizzlies to a 6-2 (.750) mark in April, including a perfect 4-0 record at home. Memphis topped the Miami Heat on April 9, their first of five consecutive wins to finish the season. Included in that streak was a 97-91 win over the Phoenix Suns on April 14, which sewed up the Grizzlies’ playoff berth, and a 106-105 overtime win over the Dallas Mavericks on April 16, which vaulted Memphis from the eight seed to the seven seed in the Western Conference Playoffs.
Other nominees for Coach of the Month were Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer, Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau, Dallas’ Rick Carlisle, New York’s Mike Woodson, Portland’s Terry Stotts, Toronto’s Dwane Casey and Washington’s Randy Wittman.