Pacers' head coach Vogel reacts during the first half of Game 1 of their NBA Eastern Conference first round playoff basketball game against the Bulls in Chicago

Frank Vogel, the Indiana Pacers, and the “next step”

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The Indiana Pacers snuck into the NBA Playoffs last season thanks to weak competition among the middling teams of the Eastern Conference, but the playoff appearance itself — and the dogfight Indiana was able to give the Chicago Bulls in the first round — still meant plenty to the Pacers’ young, developing core. Then-interim head coach Frank Vogel did a fantastic job of preparing his team to play against a formidable opponent, and Indiana’s group of charming upstarts were able to make virtually every game of Chicago’s first-round series into a coin flip as a result. The Bulls won those coin flips and advanced — as elite teams are ought to do — but the Pacers nonetheless made their case as a team to watch going forward.

With his team’s playoff success in mind, Vogel is expecting big things from his team this season (via 1070 The Fan in Indy with JMV via Sports Radio Interviews):

“I fully expect this team to take the next step. We made some strides in making the playoffs last year and fell short against Chicago. We’re all a little bit bitter about that. We felt we coulda beat the Bulls and what we learned is that we can play with the best team in the NBA. We’re expecting to pick up right where we left off and we feel like we’re only scratching the surface of what we can accomplish.”

What exactly that next step will be is anyone’s guess, as the Pacers are due for an addition of some kind this off-season. Rumors have had Indiana linked to players from Nene to David West to Rajon Rondo, suggesting that when the smoke clears, we could be looking at a significantly upgraded Pacers roster. Most of the current core will likely remain intact, but an addition at power forward seems like an inevitability at this point.

And with a more qualified power forward playing serious minutes, the Pacers look like an incredibly solid team. Tyler Hansbrough is a useful rotation player, but his lack of a pick-and-roll game made him a poor fit alongside Darren Collison. His spastic, energetic style still made him a productive member of the Pacers lineup, but his deficiencies only highlighted what a more capable player would be able to accomplish. Indiana was able to take Vogel’s “next step” regardless of any roster additions, but with the draft-night trade for George Hill and a potential free agent addition, the Pacers look poised to take a hop and a skip in the right direction. The ceiling on this bunch may not be too high (even with a substantial addition, Indy is a far cry from a contender), but they have productive players across the board and a capable coach to put it all together. It could be — and has been — much worse in Indianapolis.

Draymond Green picks up flagrant foul for shoulder hit to LeBron (VIDEO)

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 16:  Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors fouls LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers at ORACLE Arena on January 16, 2017 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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If this were the NFL, that would be a clean tackle — led with his shoulder, not his helmet.

Turns out in the NBA, that’s not allowed.

Draymond Green picked up a Flagrant 1 foul for the hit above on LeBron James. It was a transition play, and Green came in looking for a steal and maybe to send a little message, and in doing so dropped LeBron with a shoulder. You can see the video above.

The refs got this right (sorry Chris Webber). Did LeBron sell that call a little? Sure. But that was unnecessary contact, the exact definition of a Fragrant 1. Sorry Cavs fans, but that was not excessive and deserving of an ejection.

The Warriors torched the Cavaliers in the first half putting up 34 fast break points, racking up 26 assists, and leading 78-49. You read that score right. That’s at the half.

Adam Silver refutes George Karl: No reason to believe NBA has steroid issue

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 12:  NBA commissioner, Adam Silver speaks during a press conference prior to the NBA match between Indiana Pacers and Denver Nuggets at the O2 Arena on January 12, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
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George Karl alleged the NBA has a steroid issue.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver, via USA Today:

I’ll just say our testing is state of the art. I have no reason to believe whatsoever that we have an issue, either as the result of testing or as the result of other information that comes to the league office.

“I’d say that in most sports where there are issues, even when players do not test positive, usually there is some chatter that there is something going on. Other than what George Karl wrote in his book, there is no chatter whatsoever in the league. Obviously, many reporters are in this room who cover the NBA; presumably if they thought there was an issue, they would be writing about it.

“Having said that, we take allegations of performance-enhancing drugs or drug abuse of any kind incredibly seriously. I’m sure we will go through George Karl’s book, others, not me, in the league office, word by word, suggestion by suggestion, and ferret out whether there’s anything to it.

“For us, it doesn’t matter what the source is. If somebody is — especially if it’s a Hall of Fame-caliber coach registering those sort of allegations against the league, we will take them seriously. But standing here today, I have absolutely no reason to believe there’s any truth to those allegations.”

The NBA tests for performance-enhancing drugs, and those tests have produced few positive results, especially by stars. If the league believes in its process, that should say everything as far as Silver is concerned.

But drug-testing is a never-ending game of cat and mouse. Drug developers will find ways to beat testers, who will adjust with new tests, which will prompt the other side to create new drugs and masking agents, which…

Is the NBA ahead of the curve right now? Silver says it is.

He better be right. He’ll look mighty foolish if he’s not.

John Wall breaks out Shammgod in highlight, Wizards beat Trail Blazers

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Determined not to give the Portland Trail Blazers’ elite guards any feel-good shots, the Washington Wizards knocked down a few of their own and got rolling.

Bradley Beal scored 25 points and John Wall had 24 as the Wizards took a page out of the Trail Blazers’ playbook by hitting 13 3-pointers in a comfortable 120-101 victory on Monday afternoon.

Washington, which relies on the 3-point shot less than almost any other NBA team, made 9 of 13 3-pointers in a 75-point first half and was 13 of 23 in the game.

“When we play defense and get rebounds and get out in transition, teams (have) to collapse when I’m penetrating,” said Wall, who was 10 of 17 from the floor. “We moved the ball very well, and guys were knocking down shots and shooting with confidence.”

Confidence came from a 4 of 5 start and a 10-0 lead as Beal was hot early. He and Wall outplayed Portland’s Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, who Wizards coach Scott Brooks said combined to be as good as any backcourt in the league.

Lillard led the Blazers with 22 points and McCollum had 12, but they combined to shoot 11 of 29 from the floor.

“Just staying down on his pump fakes, making it tough for him, using my length to disturb him and just making sure I keep him in front of me because he’s one of the quickest guards in the league,” said Wizards guard Kelly Oubre, whose 18 points were one shy of his career high.

The Wizards led by as many as 30 on the way to their 12th consecutive home victory and their fourth win in five games. They limited the Blazers to 8 of 26 shooting from beyond the arc, part of which was self-inflicted.

“I thought our whole team struggled offensively,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “We didn’t pass and move. We didn’t do things that make us a good offensive basketball team.”

Washington did plenty of things to look like a good offensive basketball team, and Brooks was particularly proud of his team’s ball movement that helped put the game out of reach.

“I think early in the game when guys get good looks and they see the ball go in, they get confident, they start believing,” Lillard said. “Later in the game when we started to contest shots and have more of a presence, it didn’t really impact them because they had already seen the ball go in three or four times on the perimeter.”

THE HOOK

When Marcin Gortat‘s layup with 4:24 left in the third quarter made it 95-65, Stotts had enough and pulled his starting five because he didn’t think the game was going anywhere.

“He’s the coach,” Lillard said. “He took us out of the game, and that was it.”

STREAK OVER

McCollum’s streak of consecutive games with 25-plus points ended at eight. Beal tried to take McCollum off his game early by being physical, and foul pressure mounted.

“We were getting our heads beat in, we didn’t execute our offense, I got some fouls early (and) the game got out of hand,” McCollum said.

MLK DAY

Wearing a shirt with the message: “His dream inspired the world. Never stop dreaming,” Beal took the microphone to address the crowd of 17,395 on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Brooks said he always stops by the MLK Memorial during his walks around the National Mall, and Stotts said about half the team went to the National Museum of African American History and Culture after practice Monday.

TIP-INS

Trail Blazers: McCollum became the eighth player to score 1,000 points this season, joining Russell Westbrook, James Harden, DeMar DeRozan, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Kevin Durant and Isaiah Thomas. … F Maurice Harkless, who was questionable with a left calf injury, was 0 of 5 with no points.

Wizards: Improved to 10-2 when F Otto Porter has at least three 3-pointers.. … Their last 12-game home winning streak came in 1989 as the Bullets. … F Markieff Morris had 17 points and 13 rebounds for his third double-double of the season.

 

Joel Embiid was dunking, blocking, leading Sixers past Bucks (VIDEOS)

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Joel Embiid is making his case to be in the All-Star Game in more places than Twitter.

He made it on the court Monday with a dominant second half — 18 points on six shots — to lead the Sixers to a 113-104 win over the Bucks. The Sixers are 5-2 in 2017, and this gives them a couple of quality wins.

Embiid was both throwing it down with authority — as you can see above — and he was racking up blocked shots as well. He was also showing Jabari Parker you need to go strong to the rim against him, or you get sent home without lunch.

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