The Pacers are streaking toward the playoffs having won five consecutive games and eight of their last nine. Frank Vogel has his team looking at the Eastern Conference Standings on a regular basis to remind them of what they are playing for and is not shy in talking about the competition against the Knicks for the #2 seed in the upcoming Eastern Conference Playoffs.
Comments from Vogel, Roy Hibbert, and Orlando Johnson are included in this Fox 59 Pacers Notebook.
Granger has successful surgery: The team announced last week that Danny Granger would miss the remainder of the season with surgery necessary to treat his ailing knee. Granger had that surgery Thursday according to a release from the organization.
“The Indiana Pacers announced that forward Danny Granger underwent successful surgery on his left knee Thursday morning at the Andrews Institute in Gulf Breeze, FL. The surgery was performed by Dr. James Andrews with assistance from Team Orthopedist Dr. Tim Hupfer. A full recovery is expected and Granger is expected for the start of the 2013 training camp.”
Hibbert not planning a celebration (yet) : The Pacers actually “clinched” a playoff birth March 20th after 76ers loss to the Clippers. While that allowed the organization to begin selling post-season ticket packages, it didn’t lead to a big party amongst the players. Fast forward two weeks and the Pacers have a magic number of one to clinch the Central Division crown. Either a Bulls loss or a Pacers win accomplishes this feat, but still will not lead to a celebration inside the locker room.
“The fans can celebrate, we know that we should win the (Central) division, we know that we should be there. People can celebrate, but we’re a team on a mission right now.” Unlike Major League Baseball, when you see teams celebrate with champagne after clinching playoff births and with each post-season series victory, Hibbert says not to expect anything similar from the Pacers. “We bring out champagne when you win the ‘Ship”
Either an Indiana win Friday or a loss by the Bulls would ensure the Pacers first division championship since 2004….but there is not any Champagne at Bankers Life Fieldhouse yet.
Orlando’s Improvement: The Pacers are getting expecting significant contributions from someone who wasn’t even in the regular rotation when the season started. Orlando Johnson, a second round pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, spent most of the early months traveling back and forth between Indianapolis and the NBDL team in Ft. Wayne so he could get playing experience. The only trip Johnson is making these days is from the bench to the scorer’s table to check in for a team that has legitimate NBA Championship aspirations.
Prior to a game against one of the league’s marquee teams in Oklahoma City, I asked Johnson if there was a moment when it hit him that he was a legitimate NBA player and had no reason to be in awe of he competition.
“The turning point was when I actually got a chance to play against Miami. I had to guard Lebron (James) and (Dwayne) Wade, I remember the first few plays they tried to really attack me, and I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m really in the NBA now’ Ever since that game it has really started to slow down a lot more, I’ve started to become more confident out there and really show that I belong in this league.”
Putting the Western Conference trip in the rear-view mirror: Vogel admitted Thursday that it has been nice to have three days off following the four-game Western Conference road trip. “It is always important to try to get your sleep patterns back on track more than anything. You come back, if you have to play 24, 48 hours after playing on the West Coast, you’re still on West Coast time, that is challenging, so hopefully an extra couple of days will help us.
Despite the success the Pacers had on that trip, Vogel is trying to close the book on those games and focus on the task in front of them. “We’ve the last couple of days just had the mind-set that we’re putting that behind us. We still have a lot of work to do, we’re still a half-game back from New York, with all the wins we got out there, we’re still not in the two-seed right now, we’re still a half-game back, so every game is critical and we’ve gotta move forward.
Happy for both Rick & Richard Pitino: The Pacers play Saturday night in Washington D.C., so Frank Vogel will not have a chance to watch Louisville’s Final Four matchup against Wichita State. However, Vogel has made sure to let his mentor Rick Pitino know he was thinking about the Cardinals NCAA tournament run. “A few text messages, just wishing him congrats and good luck on going forward. He sent back some saying that he’s proud of what we’re doing here too, but he (Rick Pitino) is one of the best of all-time so its not surprising to see him have the success.
Another member of the Pitino family is also having a big week. Rick’s son Richard will be formally introduced as the head coach of the Minnesota Golden Gophers Friday. Vogel became close with the entire family during his days working with Rick in Lexington, and is especially close with Richard. Vogel shared stories of taking Richard to school when he was a youngster and had a smile on his face when asked about Richard’s quick ascent up the coaching ladder.
“I knew it would happen, I didn’t know it would happen this quickly for him, one year out of Florida International, but very happy that he did it, that he was able to get that (Minnesota job) and he’s going to do great there. He is a great young coach,” said Vogel about Richard Pitino.