Tag: Hawks


Frank Vogel not afraid to make adjustments, but the one he didn’t make might make the difference


Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel was an early season Coach of the Year candidate, but the Pacers’ late-season swoon has brought him into the crosshairs every bit as much as Roy Hibbert, George Hill and Paul George.

When he hit the button right next to the panic button by benching all of his starters on April 9 against the Milwaukee Bucks, some saw the move to be reactionary and weak. After a year of talking about home court advantage, to risk that advantage while the team was struggling against the likes of Henry Sims and the Sixers was the beginning of the end to some. A subsequent loss to the Miami Heat effectively moved most folks off of the Pacers’ bandwagon.

Since that loss, the Pacers’ struggles traveled with the team into the postseason and a home loss in Game 1 to the Atlanta Hawks brought the situation to Defcon-5, with none other than Defensive Player of the Year runner-up Hibbert and a struggling Hill being called to the bench by media and analysts everywhere.

The rationale was clear – Hibbert has a terrible matchup with stretch-center Pero Antic and the Hawks have correctly targeted the slow-footed big man on the backside of the pick-and-roll. Offensively, Hibbert had morphed into Kendrick Perkins, struggling to catch or hold onto the ball while taking ill-advised shots further and further away from the hoop. Hill had seemingly lost all confidence in an offense that had shut down due to a lack of penetration and ball movement.

Some of the potential fixes have been obvious, including a move to have Paul George cover Teague – and an increase in minutes for now-healthy backup point guard C.J. Watson. But at the center of it all, Hibbert’s precipitous and long-term decline over the past two months had no easy answer. By benching the big man, Vogel would walk him to the edge of a plank that Hibbert knows too well, having already succumbed to the tough love of prior coach Jim O’Brien. Functionally, a move would break up a first unit that has played heavy minutes together for two seasons now.

Nobody could blame the coach for trying to keep the team’s identity intact in the first game of a series against the 38-44 Hawks, a team whose general manager in Danny Ferry didn’t seem all that interested in making the playoffs.

So Vogel did a little bit of everything and by standing by his big man he took the first step toward rehabilitating the Pacers during Tuesday’s 101-85 win in Game 2.

Hibbert and Hill remained in the starting lineup, but defensive changes headlined the night as George was tapped to cover Teague and Hibbert was moved onto Paul Millsap. Hill drew the assignment of Kyle Korver, and at the three-minute mark of the first quarter Ian Mahimni was joined by Watson to replace Hibbert and Lance Stephenson – giving the Pacers a two-guard front of Hill and Watson to work offensively against Teague, Lou Williams and Shelvin Mack. Stephenson obviously didn’t like the minute reduction, but his seven points, three rebounds and five assists wore well as a supplement to the increased punch of the smaller lineup.

The early returns didn’t show on the scoreboard as the Hawks built an 11-point lead deep into the second quarter. But one wouldn’t know that from watching the play on the court, as George sunk his teeth into Teague, who continued to play great but didn’t have anywhere near the run of the yard he had in Game 1. Hill penetrated repeatedly in the first quarter and gained confidence throughout the game. Hibbert fought for better position, even though he continued to sputter offensively. Despite foul trouble, David West was aggressive in looking for his outside shot and his backup Luis Scola hit 9-of-14 shots for 20 points and seven boards in 19 minutes.

Hibbert continued to get beat up defensively, giving up just short of 20 points on outside shots and dribble drives to the hoop. But his footwork improved and on a number of plays his trademark anticipation appeared to be back, and on the times he was beat he didn’t appear to be as overmatched as he was in past games. The Pacers worked the ball into him in the post and on most touches his feet were either inside the paint already or just a foot or two away. He effectively angled for position as the ball moved from side to side and when nothing was there he focused on rebounding, even if his four boards in 24 minutes last night won’t be entered into the Naismith Hall of Fame.

Recognizing that George could slow down the front-end of Teague’s pick-and-roll, among other things, Vogel dared the Hawks to have DeMarre Carroll and Korver to beat Hill and Watson, which didn’t happen. When Williams or Mack was in the game they essentially gave the Pacers a hall pass to add offensively-minded Watson onto the floor at no cost. Hill was able to move to a more comfortable shooting guard position where he received scant attention, and Watson executed the pick-and-roll to near perfection while aggressively stepping into open looks.

Defensively, George was nothing short of phenomenal and all together the Pacers finally made the Hawks look like the Hawks – a team with talented starters but little depth and not nearly enough offensive firepower to keep up with a signature defense that defined Indiana’s blistering start. Ian Mahinmi didn’t do anything to dispel the notion that he should be getting more minutes, blocking a pair of shots while hedging and recovering in a way that supported the case for sending Hibbert to the second unit.

But Vogel wasn’t having any of that.

By emptying the pantry first, using a series of cross-matches and less severe fixes, Vogel was able to hedge his bets and keep Hibbert from walking the plank. In return, Hibbert responded with baby steps back toward respectability. Aside from his improvements in defense, he showed quickness and aggression in his misses and properly deferred rather than forcing up bad shots. It appeared as if he remembered that an entry pass doesn’t have to be his proving ground, but merely a unique way of creating penetration to bend the defense.

The Pacers don’t need him to be a 20 point-per-game scorer, and against the Hawks they merely need him not to be a liability. By pushing the button right next to the panic button, Vogel was able to mask his center’s weaknesses and give his nucleus optimal conditions to succeed. Hibbert will continue to struggle with matchups throughout this series, but in the end it will be the change that Vogel didn’t make that keeps hope alive if they can claw their way back into a matchup against the Heat.

Sink or swim, the Pacers’ defensive anchor needs to stay on board for them to have a chance to sail off into the sunset.

Lakers remind fans why maybe they shouldn’t worry so much

Atlanta Hawks v Los Angeles Lakers

Those looked like the Lakers everyone expects to see.

The Lakers who showed up at Staples Center Tuesday night were up double-digits in the first quarter on a pretty good Hawks team. Those Lakers cruised to a 104-80 win. Those Lakers looked nothing like the ones that dropped three straight games at the end of the Grammys road trip. These Lakers looked infinitely better than the team that wore the same jerseys in Cleveland.

What was the difference between the Lakers of this Tuesday and the ones that lost to the woefully bad Cleveland Cavaliers six days before? Sing it Aretha:


The Lakers respected the Hawks, they didn’t the Cavaliers. The Lakers respected the game Tuesday; in Cleveland their heads were already on vacation for the All-Star break. The Lakers decided to respect the defensive end of the floor Tuesday as well.

Lakers fans were horrified at the loss to the Cavaliers. But people close to the team were not that surprised. The Lakers didn’t respect the Cavaliers, and when they don’t respect a team they show up flat, don’t execute and anyone can play with them. Combine that with Cleveland being the last game of a road trip and the last game before the All-Star break and some people thought it was a trap game for the Lakers. One they walked right into.

Tuesday night, the Lakers showed fans what happens when they do show up, when they do respect an opponent and the game.

Monday the Lakers coaching staff made the team sit through the horror film of defensive lapses from the past few games. It was Exorcist level scary. It had everything but Andrew Bynum’s head spinning all the way around and throwing up split pea soup.

The Lakers players got the message and they were aggressive on defense — especially Bynum who was clogging up the lane, altering shots and grabbing boards. The Lakers defensive rotations were crisp.

The Hawks had no answer for that. And they were ice cold. They shot 34 percent in the first half and 37 percent for the game. They were 1-15 from three. Heck, they only shot 68 percent unguarded from the free throw line. Every Hawk not named Al Horford (6-for-9 shooting) could not find the range. While the Lakers defense was part of that, the Hawks were missing open looks, too.

Conversely, the Lakers were hot. How hot? When Derek Fisher drained his first three shots you knew it was going to be that kind of night. They were attacking hard, as evidenced by drawing fouls and getting to the line 40 times. They did whatever they wanted. All 12 Lakers who dressed for the game scored.

It’s not going to be that easy the rest of the way. The Lakers have the second toughest remaining schedule in the league (the Lakers remaining opponents have won 55 percent of their games). Even if the Lakers are respecting their opponents an the game, their schedule will make it hard to catch the teams above them, or even win at a faster clip.

There are all sorts of questions about these Lakers. Fans are worried and talking about trades — big trades. The team’s mental makeup has been called into question. Kobe Bryant was called into question.

But it’s just a matter of respect. And tired legs (the Lakers are an older team that does not deal as well with long road trips). When the Lakers respect their opponent as they did Tuesday they are a force, one of the league’s elite. Their length is nearly impossible for teams to deal with.

Tuesday night they were singing respect in a way that would have made Aretha proud. And in a way that should remind everyone that come the playoffs — when they do respect their opponents and have plenty of time to rest — that they are still the champions. And knocking them off that thrown will not be easy. Not in the least.

Is Mike Woodson burning out his starters?

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Hawks blog Hawk Str8Talk has a few qualms with Hawks’ coach Mike Woodson, regarding his rotation. After the Hawks lost to the Suns on Friday, Woodson said he wanted to try something new by not playing his bench, hardly at all, going to a tighter rotation. Jamal Crawford was the only non-starter to log double digit minutes.

The main argument is that a non-essential game is not the time to turn to a tighter rotation, but to give minutes to bench players.

What’s interesting about this in particular is that a tighter rotation is often a hallmark of playoff teams. Only the Magic of the top contending teams does not follow this strategy and that’s largely a component of the Magic’s style and scheme, dependent upon long, athletic three point shooters.

Still, when things started to fall apart for the Hawks on a road trip (they managed just 30 points in the second half in Phoenix), burning out your starters becomes a needless expense.