INDIANAPOLIS – He was the first interview and it was the first question asked to him.
After all, it has been on the mind of many the past 24 hours.
Still Frank Vogel didn’t want to engage in any continued banter between himself and Heat forward LeBron James.
“Not really. He was reacting to something I didn’t say,” said Vogel. “So I really don’t have a reaction to it.”
Miami’s superstar player was irked when a reporter told him that Vogel described the Heat as “Just Another Team” which James responded by saying: “He said we’re just another team in their way. We’re not just another team. We’re a great team.”
The quote Vogel had on Saturday was this in reference to a question about facing the Heat a year after they lost to them in the Conference Semifinals was this: “It’s not about getting back at Miami. When you’re in the final four you’re competing for a championship and they are just the next team that is in our way and that’s how we’re approaching it.”
Monday the Pacers’ coach made it clear that banter between the teams wouldn’t be commonplace as they approach the Eastern Conference Finals. Miami is hoping to bring home its second consecutive NBA Championship while Indiana is going for its first NBA Finals appearance since 2000.
Those consequences, according to Vogel, upstage any motivational chatter between the squads.
“This series isn’t about bulletin board material or trash talking,” said Vogel. “It’s two teams playing at an extremely high level, competing for a conference championship.”
Most of the Pacers players stood behind Vogel’s refusal to continue the rhetoric with James, each of them refraining from escalating the chatter.
“I could care less,” said center Roy Hibbert when asked if he followed the Vogel-James mini-saga. “It’s whatever. We’re just going to play our game.”
Indeed the Pacers will have to keep their minds on the floor against a Miami team that is on the level or higher than the one that knocked them out of the playoffs in the second round in six games in 2012. Miami won 66 games in the regular season-the best overall in the NBA-which was led by James’ 26.8 points a game which helped him earn a fourth MVP award.
The Pacers improved themselves, winning 49 games and two playoffs series in a year for the first time since 2004, and await the challenge of their newest rival.
“We definitely want to see it,” said guard George Hill of another match-up with the Heat. “We’re going to embrace it, count our blessings, have fun with it. At the same time it has a big meaning. I think it does a lot for our program and does a lot for the future of this program, for people to want to be apart and things like that.
“So we we’ll just have to go out there and have fun and show them that this Indiana team can play basketball.”
The one who will have to prove that the most is George, who will likely see a significant amount of time guarding James. In their last series, LeBron averaged 30 points in the six games against the Pacers and was especially effective in the three straight wins Miami had to close out the series.
“I wasn’t as aggressive as I am this year,” said George, comparing himself now to when he faced the Heat in the playoffs in 2012. “Really not looking to attack, looking to create. Not really looking for my offensive game to open up thing for everybody else.”
Indiana as a whole must do that against a talented Heat team that averaged 102 points a game during the regular season and features a multitude of scoring threats from James to Dwayne Wade to Chris Bosh.
“Obviously our defense has been strong all year, that’s been our backbone, we’ve been able to rely on that in good and bad times,” said forward David West. “We’re gonna continue to rely on that and obviously they’re a different monster in terms of how they’re built and how they’re designed, but we’re gonna rely on our defense, our ability to slow people down and force teams to deal with us inside. That’s not going to change.”
No matter what someone said or didn’t say.