TrueHoop: Roy Hibbert

How Roy Hibbert protects the rim

May, 9, 2014
May 9
3:44
PM ET
Haberstroh By Tom Haberstroh
ESPN.com
Archive
We go inside the numbers to show how Roy Hibbert has returned to being the NBA's top basket defender.

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Gone fishin'

May, 9, 2014
May 9
10:15
AM ET
By Michael Rubino
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Pacers clockAndy Lyons/Getty ImagesRoy Hibbert righted the ship in Game 2, but is time still running out on the Pacers' postseason hopes?
Basically, there are three kinds of fishing trips.

There’s the one where you lie about going fishing and instead drink beer. (This is the most common.) Then you have your "Andy Griffith Show"-style outing, where, pole slung over your shoulder, all problems melt away against an upbeat ditty that comes from a whistling, off-screen chorus. And finally, you have the one where things go horribly wrong -- like in "Jaws" or "The Godfather: Part II."

Although it’s unclear which type of outing Paul George was angling for when he invited teammates George Hill and Roy Hibbert to his Geist Reservoir pad Tuesday -- a day after the Indiana Pacers looked flat in a 102-96 Game 1 loss to the Washington Wizards -- this much is unmistakable: They caught a fish in the waters off the posh Indianapolis suburb, and no one got tossed overboard like Fredo.

We know this because George posted a picture to his Instagram account. In the photo, Hibbert, center, wraps one arm around Hill and rests the other on George’s shoulder. There’s also a fish, which looks quite small in Hibbert’s mitt. The image was accompanied by a caption that read, “These rumors have got to stop! Its [sic] getting old now and all you that believe them are ignorant! #Brothers”

The rumors and innuendo have plagued the Pacers in the postseason and throughout most of the regular season’s second half. At times, the tattle (cliques, insecurities and women are the most common themes) overshadowed their accomplishments and has only grown in Indiana’s eventful playoff run. In advance of Game 2, George finally addressed its existence: “I'm just getting tired of the media and these stories,” he said. “I’m just putting everything to bed and rest.”

The Pacers, though, have put themselves in this position -- being defensive instead of playing defense, which is the reason the team is the Eastern Conference’s top seed, and, for parts of the season, looked like it belonged among the NBA’s elite.

There’s never been a clear explanation or alibi for Indiana's woes, so this is what it’s come to for those on the outside looking in: cognitive theory from the living room couch and pub-stool psychoanalysis; trading in rumors and rumoring in trades; divining and mining Instagram pics for The Answer (not Allen Iverson).

Fans have been fishing, too.

Regardless, whatever happened (or didn’t) between Hibbert and his teammates, it worked.

In Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, the enigmatic big man, who went scoreless in Game 1, had a season-high 28 points in an 86-82 win to even the series at 1-1. There were also nine rebounds, two blocks and no turnovers. He even smiled again.

All this coming after said fishing junket, social-media shots from all corners and public pleas from teammates begging for Hibbert to make his presence known. “I got to come out and be aggressive,” he said after the Game 1 loss. “I got to be a different Roy Hibbert than I have been.”

So now all’s well again -- until it isn’t. That’s what the Go Fish! approach has wrought: uncertainty.

No one knows what Game 3 will bring. Or which Pacers team will show. Or which players. Or which versions of which players. The team already has a “Good Lance” Stephenson and a “Bad Lance,” but based on Hibbert’s comments, there are now apparently multiple Roys. And that type of herky-jerky back-and-forth -- the kind that throws guys from boats -- is the reason the Pacers don’t inspire confidence right now.

No one would ever confuse 90210 with the 46204 ZIP code, but we’ve had what’s felt like our fair share of high school drama here. And while the Pacers have been mired in theatrics, the Heat continue to prowl. Miami swept Charlotte, then plowed through Brooklyn in Games 1 and 2. LeBron & Co. look like true predators.

If the Pacers hope to fend off the upstart Wizards and topple the Heat, then Hibbert, Hill and George are going to need a bigger boat.

Michael Rubino is a senior editor at Indianapolis Monthly.

Winners in Indiana's book?

March, 26, 2014
Mar 26
10:45
AM ET
By Michael Rubino
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Roy HibbertAP Photo/Michael ConroyAfter looking like the best team in basketball, Indy has fallen on hard times. Hoosiers were prepared.
Hoosiers fret. Height of the corn. Length of the sermon. Width of the breaded pork tenderloin. You name it.

But this NBA season, the state pastime has grown into a preoccupation for fans of the Indiana Pacers.

In the beginning, we worried the national media wasn’t paying enough attention to the team’s 16-1 start. By the break, we overthought the All-Star snub of guard Lance Stephenson and gnawed on the notion that, at 40-12 (best in the Eastern Conference), the team hadn’t been on TV much. Then the departure of Danny Granger! The additions of Evan Turner and Andrew Bynum! And -- gasp -- the 11- 8 mark since the break (including a 7-7 beginning to March)! Fans here have been dying for someone to tell them what to think, and need that ordination of the Pacers' greatness or divination of what's gone wrong of late to come down from on high.

Hoosiers fret, but we also pay deference to authority (see Knight, Bob). And both conditions betray our flyover-country baggage packed with inherent self-doubt and a need for affirmation. Do we belong? Are we good enough? What do you think?

Despite the angst, it's worth noting, the team still has the top record in the Eastern Conference -- two games over hated Miami -- and third-best in the Association. Since the state went 0-for-the NCAA tournament, all hopes to prove our basketball superiority hinge on the professional squad.

[+] EnlargeRoy Hibbert
AP Photo/R Brent SmithAfter a 7-7 start to March, are things still looking up for Roy Hibbert and the East-leading Pacers?
In many ways, 7-foot-2 Roy Hibbert is the perfect Pacer as the largest -- figuratively and literally -- manifestation of the Hoosier mindset.

It’s little wonder the All-Star center is a fan favorite. Off the court, Hibbert projects as a salt-of-the-earth guy who holds "American Idol"-style auditions to give blue-and-gold crazies a shot to sit in his "Area 55" of Bankers Life Fieldhouse. He’s active in the community and seems to genuinely enjoy being part of the Indianapolis skyline. Hibbert’s a plus on the court, too. He swats shots, grabs rebounds and, over the years, has developed a dangerous little hook. He hustles.

When Big Roy hits the deck -- and this happens maybe once or twice a game -- you can hear the crowd draw its breath. Oh no! He climbs to one knee, gets the other leg underneath him, and then pushes upright. The whole process, it takes a while. He hits the floor harder and takes longer to get up than anyone I can recall, but he's 7-2, so I get it. Almost without exception, he's right back at it after the fall, protecting the rim, doing his thing.

Problem is, Hibbert takes big mental falls, too -- on-court plummets where he disappears for quarters and then strings of games. When the Pacers are going good, Hibbert’s teammates usually find him for early, momentum-building opportunities. But during the swoons, Hibbert becomes forgotten (or allows himself to fade into the background). Perhaps he internalizes too much. Maybe he’s too pensive. Could be a confidence issue. I don’t know. But what I do know is that it takes him a while to get up -- to bounce back. This happened last season, but, by March, Hibbert shook the crisis of confidence and was probably the biggest reason the team took Miami to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals. He’s in the midst of another spring swoon, and until he picks himself up, fans will hold their breath and brood.

This type of anxiety doesn’t appear to wash over the fan bases of the NBA's blue-blood franchises. Knicks fans, for example, haven’t lost their delusions of grandeur even though their team is in the midst of another lost season. The mantra in New York isn’t Save us, Phil Jackson! -- it’s Phil Jackson will save us. That’s self-assurance. Misguided, maybe, but it’s certainty nonetheless.

Over the years, this neurosis in Indiana hasn’t been limited to professional basketball or even proficiency in the realm of athletics.

Even though the Peyton Manning-led Colts were the (regular-season) class of the NFL and brought Indianapolis a Super Bowl title in 2007, most fans were loathe to make bold pronouncements about their achievements. When it came to Manning’s place in the pantheon, the collective sentiment here seemed to be: He's great -- right?

A few years later, when Indianapolis hosted the Super Bowl in 2012, that lack of certitude was manifest in the civic sphere. With a big assist from uncharacteristic spring-like weather in early February, the city and its volunteers clearly put together one the most well-run Super Bowls in recent NFL memory, showcasing the vibrancy (and accessibility) of its downtown and the vigor of Indy’s local businesses. Yet, when it was all over, residents couldn’t stop wondering if we’d done OK. Part of that was simply Hoosiers hospitality -- the desire to please -- but it also spoke to a genuine lack of certainty. We looked to the Darren Rovells of the world to tell us what we (hopefully) already knew: We nailed it.

One could argue this is a byproduct of modesty, that Hoosiers don’t like to toot their own horn. But it has more to do with the idea that we’re somewhat uncomfortable playing that instrument in front of a big audience.

From the outside looking in, this may seem odd, especially in the context of basketball, a sport that Hoosiers perfected. But achievement has come in large part thanks to the high school and college game -- the smaller stages, not the grand one. Even the Pacers’ three championships came in the ABA, always a sideshow to the NBA.

From Hibbert to the way we feel about Hoosier Hysteria, none of this is a bad thing. It’s human and real, genuine. It’s part of our identity, and it’s become part of the way others see us.

Doubt and determination are variables in the narrative equation, ones necessary for true triumph. Succeeding against great odds is wonderful, but the victory is sweetest when attained while conquering something within yourself, and this idea is very much a part of the Hoosier sports experience, no matter the team or player.

[+] EnlargeLarry Bird
Ron Hoskins/NBAE/Getty ImagesLarry Bird, the pride of French Lick and the Pacers' president, is an embodiment of the Hoosier mindset.
Pacers president Larry Bird embodies this ideal, and it has always made me think of him as a kind of corncob Christ.

Today and throughout his playing days, Bird built a career on fail-safe skill and a cloak of confidence (he was a proto-s----talker) that hugged him tighter than those old thigh-high Celtics drawers. But even Bird had his moment of wandering in the desert before ascending to greatness, leaving Knight's IU program before his freshman season even began and returning home to French Lick. Whatever happened during that time, I'd bet it laid the foundation for the greatness that was to come: Indiana State, Boston, the Hall of Fame.

One of the all-time great Bird moments came late in his career against, of all teams, the Pacers during the 1991 playoffs where the darkness-dawn thing played out over four quarters. Back then, Bird was ravaged with a bad back. Instead of sitting on the bench, he'd lay on the floor in pain. With Bird prone, it was the perfect opportunity for the Pacers to steal a series and move on to the next round. During the first half of Game 5, Bird landed hard and whacked his head against the Garden's parquet. He was helped off the floor, led through the tunnel and into the locker room. It looked as if he was finished.

He wasn't, of course. Bird returned for the second half and the Celtics won on the strength of one his all-time great lines: 32 points, nine rebounds, seven assists, one concussion.

Pacers fans could use a doubt-determination moment of their own like that one. We're not agnostic -- we're just waiting for a sign.

Michael Rubino is a senior editor at Indianapolis Monthly.

How the draft lottery weakens the East

January, 3, 2014
Jan 3
1:00
PM ET
Harris By Curtis Harris
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
The current state of the Eastern Conference has been widely panned and rightfully so. As of Friday morning, only three East teams sit above .500, and the conference currently holds an overall win percentage of .442, which puts it on track for 36 wins per team. That’s a historically horrific track to be going down. Just once before has a conference had a lower win percentage -- and that was way back in 1960 when the West won 40 percent of its games.

This year may be the worst-case scenario for the East, but it’s continuing a steady trend. For 15 years dating back to the 1999-00 season, the Western Conference has won an average of 52.5 percent of its games overwhelming the East’s 47.5 percent. But since 2009, the West has held a higher win percentage than the East in every individual season.

There are many reasons for this. One of them that has not been discussed much is that the NBA draft system often unintentionally (but systematically) awards decent West teams slightly better draft picks than similar teams in the East. It's a system designed to help the weak get stronger, but it's rewarding the stronger conference almost every season.

It works like this. The lottery format, of course, semi-randomly assigns the top overall picks -- only twice since the 1999-2000 season has the worst team in the NBA won the top pick. But what matters is who gets into the lottery: specifically, teams that miss the playoffs. In the West, those are typically good teams. In the East, that's not so. So the top draft spots are going to a pool of teams that includes some strong West teams and weaker East ones.

Since 2000, 13 Western Conference teams have been in the lottery despite having one of the 16 best records in the NBA. On the flip side, this means that 13 Eastern Conference teams that did not possess one of the 16 best records in the NBA made the playoffs.

This odd situation is a quirk of the playoff structure, which takes the eight best teams per conference not the 16 best teams from the whole league. And it’s also a byproduct of the draft which then promises the top 14 picks to the non-playoff teams, not the 14 worst teams in the NBA, recordwise.

The average victories for the should-have-been playoff teams from the West is 43.3 wins. The average for those should-have-been lottery East teams is 39.6 wins. The situation reached its nadir in 2008 when the Golden State Warriors won 48 games, which was the 12th best record in the NBA. Still, they missed the Western Conference playoffs. Meanwhile the 37-win Atlanta Hawks got themselves a spot in the Eastern Conference postseason with the 19th best record in the league.

Other notable misfortunes include:
  • The 43-win Utah Jazz missed the playoffs, but made the lottery, while the 38-win Milwaukee Bucks saw the postseason in 2013.
  • In 2011, the Pacers won just 37 games and made the playoffs, while the Rockets won 43 and got a lottery pick.
  • In 2009, the 46-win Phoenix Suns didn't make the playoffs, but the 39-win Detroit Pistons did.
  • 2005 saw the Timberwolves win 44 and make the lottery, while the Nets won 42 and didn't.
  • In 2004, the 39-win Knicks and 36-win Celtics made the playoffs in the weak East, while the 42-win Jazz and 41-win Trail Blazers drew pingpong balls.
  • In 2001, the 45-win Rockets and 44-win SuperSonics earned spots in the lottery, but the 43-win Orlando Magic and the 41-win Indiana Pacers did not.

Those 42-, 44-, even 48-win Western Conference teams are getting an (admittedly slim) chance at the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. More importantly, though, they are absolutely getting a leg up on a better opportunity to collect talent compared to those Eastern teams which are losing three, five, or even 11 more games.

This discrepancy helps to reinforce the power of the Western Conference, while limiting the ability of the Eastern Conference to correct the imbalance.

The 13 West teams that missed the playoffs but got into the lottery received an average draft selection of 12.5 when in a league-wide draw would have been slotted in at around 16.5. That’s an appreciable four pick difference. Meanwhile, those crummy East teams got an average draft slot of 15 when they should have been picking at No. 13.

Obviously, the uppermost part of the draft is where the franchise-changing players are added. LeBron James, Dwight Howard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Dwyane Wade ... they were all taken in the top five picks. However that mid-range in the draft is important for complementing those stars with good role players.

Luckily for the East, the Western Conference has largely bungled its draft choices in this range. The 2008 Warriors with their 14th pick, instead of the 19th that they deserved, took Anthony Randolph ahead of useful players like Robin Lopez and Roy Hibbert.

You can lead a horse to water, but sometimes it’s going to drown in the pool, I suppose.

This quirky situation isn’t the end of the world, and it’s certainly not the cause of the disparity between the East and the West. I don’t think we’ll ever really know why the West is demonstrably better than the East for 15 years running now.

But the point here is that the current, peculiar format of the draft and the playoffs isn’t doing a lot to correct the imbalance and the solution is fairly simple.

This is yet another argument for a HoopIdea that many others have made before: It's time to reconsider the process of allocating talent to teams. At a minimum, it would make sense that the 14-worst teams receive the top 14 picks. The West is already formidable enough.

East-leading Indy stays home for Christmas

December, 23, 2013
12/23/13
11:44
PM ET
Windhorst By Brian Windhorst
ESPN.com
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NEW YORK -- When the NBA schedule came out last summer, the Indiana Pacers players first looked for their opener, then they looked at Christmas Day.

Surely they would've graduated to Christmas Day status -- a trademark sign of national respect in the league -- after going to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals against the Miami Heat last season.

But Dec. 25 was blank.

"No comment," Pacers center Roy Hibbert said. "I’m going to leave that one alone."

"We expect stuff like that," David West said. "It was the same reason that at the start of the season I saw us getting picked like fourth in the East."

"I wasn’t expecting to play that day, to be honest," Paul George said. "It’s just the way it’s been for us being here."

Ten teams were picked to play on Wednesday, generally the 10 teams the league expected to generate the most excitement on one of the season’s marquee days. The small-market Pacers didn't make the cut.

They will play in the featured game on Thursday night only once this season, in mid-January. They are not currently scheduled to play in a Sunday afternoon national-television game. Of the four games they play against the Heat this season, two were not initially scheduled to be on one of the league’s national broadcast partners.

Monday night they took apart the injury-ravaged Brooklyn Nets 103-86. The Nets are the inverse of the Pacers. After their offseason of flashy moves, they received a huge amount of attention and were given a full slot on the national platform, kicking off Christmas Day against the equally disappointing Chicago Bulls.

The Pacers’ payroll this season is a little less than $70 million. The Nets are paying $80 million … in luxury tax. After blowing a late lead in Miami last week put them on their first losing streak of the season, the Pacers have now come back to win three in a row to improve to 23-5.

"We let our play do the talking," West said. "We understand who we are. We’re still growing our names. Even Paul, he’s getting some attention, but people are just starting to get to know him."

The Pacers, who are about five years into a plan that has seen them build primarily through the draft, may get a taste of revenge when the All-Star Game arrives, though. They might as well book a block of rooms in New Orleans for President's Day weekend now.

With the win over the Nets, coach Frank Vogel suddenly has a magic number of 10 to clinch being the All-Star coach for the East. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is ineligible because he was the coach last season and the Pacers have an eight-game lead on the third-seeded Atlanta Hawks. Vogel could clinch the honor by the middle of January if the team keeps on this pace.

George appears headed to be voted in as a starter; he would be the first Pacer to get that honor since Jermaine O'Neal in 2003. Hibbert probably won’t get voted in -- the ballot no longer has a center designation -- but is nearly a lock to get there.

"LeBron can start at center," Hibbert said. "He can play all five positions."

West, a two-time All-Star, will get strong consideration, and even Lance Stephenson -- a player who would've drawn laughs when mentioned in All-Star talk a few months ago -- is gaining traction. Or at least the Pacers are trying to give it to him.

Indiana might not lead the league in attention, but it is among the leaders in confidence. Hibbert has been on his own campaign to win NBA defensive player of the year. Teammates have mentioned George as an MVP candidate. And now the vogue idea is to pitch Stephenson as an All-Star.

"He should be in the conversation," Vogel said. "He’s got to be in the conversation."

Stephenson had his third triple-double of the season Sunday against the Boston Celtics, then Monday he put on a show in his hometown in front of about 30 friends and family. He had a career-high 26 points with 7 rebounds and 5 assists.

With each basket, his buddies sitting above the Pacers bench would jump up and pump their fists. As the game got out of hand and Nets fans started leaving, the Stephenson section became more and more audible.

"I was pretty emotionally hyped for this game," Stephenson said. "I couldn't really sleep last night."

In the end, perhaps the Pacers ended up with the best deal in it all. The schedule has them off until Saturday, a break that allowed the team to give the players two days off over the holiday. Stephenson stayed in Brooklyn with family. The rest of the Pacers, at least according to Hibbert’s Twitter feed, spent their bus ride toward their Christmas vacation arguing over who has the better career: Britney Spears or Miley Cyrus.

Meanwhile, the Heat complained in a recent meeting with incoming commissioner Adam Silver that they had to travel to L.A. for Christmas when they’re the defending champs. Flying under the radar can, it seems, have its perks.

"Everything has played perfect for us. We didn’t get distracted with too much attention," said George, who had 26 points of his own in the win. "I feel like that’ll change in the future."

George, defense key Indy's unbeaten start

November, 5, 2013
11/05/13
11:23
PM ET
By Alvin Anol, ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com

ESPN Stats & InformationPaul George has connected on 14 of his 31 3-point attempts this season.
Led by Paul George and their trademark stingy defense, the Indiana Pacers held off a late Detroit Pistons rally to remain the NBA's lone unbeaten team.

George scored a game-high 31 points with 10 rebounds, becoming the first Pacers player with a 30-point, 10-rebound game since David West did it at the beginning of last season.

It was George's second 30-point effort of the season, after scoring 32 in the Pacers second game against the New Orleans Pelicans. He's already one 30-point game away from matching his number of such games last season just four games into the 2013-14 campaign.

One reason for his scoring boost has been greater efficiency from 3-point range.

So far, he's connected on 14 of his 31 attempts -- a 45 percent clip. He's attempting almost eight 3-pointers per game so far, almost two full attempts more than he averaged a season ago.

While George has the led the way for Indiana offensively, the team's defense has picked up right where it left off a season ago.

Indiana led the NBA last season by holding opponents to 38 percent shooting from the field. The Pacers have held three of its four opponents this season to worse than 40 percent shooting, with the Pelicans shooting exactly 40 percent.

Roy Hibbert
Hibbert
Roy Hibbert, who had seven blocks Tuesday, has been a major part of the defense's success.

Hibbert has averaged five blocks this season, and there’s been a marked difference in Indiana’s defense when he’s been on the floor versus off it.

According to NBA.com, the Pacers have a 75.3 defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions) when Hibbert is on the floor. But when he’s been off the floor, Indiana’s defensive efficiency spikes to 101.3.

Teams have shot just 48 percent inside the restricted area against Indiana so far, second-best in the league. The Pacers led the league in that category last season, holding teams to 54 percent in the restricted area.

Hibbert’s presence has essentially made a good defense an elite one.

The Pistons found rare success in the paint against Indiana (scoring 46 points), but Indiana had held its opponents to a league-best 30 points in the paint per game entering Tuesday.

Through four games, Indiana has a defensive efficiency of 86.1, best in the NBA.

This is the third 4-0 start in Pacers franchise history, with the team also starting the 1989-90 and 2004-05 seasons in such fashion. If the Pacers can get a win Wednesday, when they play the Chicago Bulls on ESPN (7 p.m. ET), it'd be their first 5-0 start as an NBA franchise.

Monday Bullets

August, 19, 2013
8/19/13
5:08
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Premiering Friday in Chicago: "Lockout: The Musical," by Ben Fort and Ballerball's Jason Gallagher.
  • Chris Hansen, the hedge-fund manager whose bid to bring the Kings to Seattle, contributed $100,000 to a PAC aimed at torpedoing a plan to build a new arena in Sacramento. Hansen says he regrets the decision. James Ham of Cowbell Kingdom: "Once a white knight for Seattle, Hansen now comes across as vindictive, smug and bitter. He is still holding tightly to a 'binding agreement' that was never really binding. By taking the next step and attempting to spoil Sacramento’s arena deal, he comes across as petty and small."
  • The sad mystery of former Pacer and Israeli Basketball Super League legend Kenny Williams, who was deported from Israel to the United States, where he's now confronting a new series of legal problems.
  • Seerat Sohi at Hardwood Paroxysm: "You learn that the whole of life is just a gigantic struggle between deciding when to be selfish and when to be unselfish. When to shoot and when to pass. When to drive the lane with reckless abandon and when to set the offense. You learn that these things are as simple as they are impossible. It takes experience, it takes a cerebral, Chris Paul-esque sense of everything that’s happening around you."
  • Never seen "Space Jam" on the big screen? The E Street Cinema in Washington, just four blocks or so from the Verizon Center, has you covered on Aug. 30.
  • When Jarrett Jack clowns J.R. Smith about spending $450,000 on an armored truck, Smith tweets back with, "Man stop it u spend that on clothes!"
  • Interesting stuff from Ian Levy at Hickory High about the rote perceptions surrounding pot and pro basketball players.
  • Roy Hibbert send thanks to the Spurs for letting him use their facility to work out.
  • Metta World Peace will be playing a twin-bill comedy show on Aug. 31 at the Hollywood Improv.
  • Finally getting around to reading "Nixonland," a fun, narrative, pulpy political history of the mid-60's through mid-70's. When Richard Nixon gets serious about targeting political enemies with instruments of power like the IRS and FBI, one of his early targets is longtime Democratic operative Larry O'Brien, who would later become NBA Commissioner.
  • If the Warriors win big this season, could a healthy Stephen Curry emerge as an MVP threat?
  • If we're in the Wireless Age, then why are we still plugging so many things in? Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is part of a group of investors funding an endeavor by Meredith Perry that wants to solve that problem with piezoelectrical technology.

Numbers favor ... in Game 7

June, 3, 2013
6/03/13
1:00
PM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
Archive

MCT/ZUMA Press/Icon SMI
LeBron James (right) averages 34.3 PPG in three career Game 7s, the most in NBA history. Paul George (left) will try to lead the Pacers to their first-ever Conference Finals Game 7 win.
The Indiana Pacers visit the Miami Heat in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. We give you the reasons to believe that each team will get to the NBA Finals.

Numbers that favor the Heat
Start with the fact that home teams are 89-23 all-time in Game 7s, a .795 winning percentage, and the Heat have been a different team at home in this series.

Though the Pacers manhandled the Heat in the paint in Game 6, Miami is shooting 59.8 percent in the paint at home in the series, nearly 10 percentage points better than Indiana. Overall the Heat have shot 48 percent at home and 43 percent on the road in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Heat are limiting the Pacers to 35.9 percent shooting from 3-point range at home (43.6 percent on the road) and are allowing 10 fewer points per 100 possessions at home (101.5 at home and 111.8 on the road).

That home/road split extends to Pacers big man Roy Hibbert as well --he's averaging 4.7 second-chance points per game and grabbing 14 percent of missed shots while he’s on the floor on the road, down from 9.3 second-chance points per game and a rebounding percentage of 20.3 at home.

The team that scores more points in the paint is 5-0 in the series (Both scored 40 in Game 2). In Miami this series, the Heat average 44.7 paint points per game and the Pacers average 40.0.

The Heat have not lost consecutive games since January 8-10. They’ve only lost two games at home in the same playoff series once in the last three postseasons (2011 NBA Finals).

LeBron James is averaging 32.0 points per game, shooting 55.7 percent and has a PER of 32.0 at home in the series, compared to 25.0 points per game, 46.4 percent and a PER of 26.9 in Indiana.

And the Heat have the experience edge in a big way, with 13 players on their roster who have played in a Game 7. The Pacers have just two -- David West and Sam Young.

Numbers that favor the Pacers
Home teams may have a great record in Game 7s, but they are not invincible -- the road team has won two of the past three Conference Final Game 7s.

In fact, eight (out of 24) road teams have won a Game 7 in any series since 2005, including the Chicago Bulls this season .

The Pacers have been better in the clutch this series, averaging 113.8 points per 100 possessions in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime with the score within five points.

The Heat are averaging just 78.4 points per 100 possessions in those situations, turning the ball over on more than a quarter of their possessions.

Not all of the home/road splits favor Miami in Game 7. The Pacers are allowing almost five fewer transition points per game on the road, limiting the Heat to 12.0 transition points per game in Miami (down from 16.7 at home).

Paul George is averaging 25.3 points per game and has a PER of 22.0 on the road in the series, compared to 17.7 points per game and a PER of 14.7 at home.

They are +28 in second-chance points in the series and have outscored the Heat on second chances in four of the six games. Indiana was +9 on second-chance points in Game 6.

As good as LeBron is, he’s only 1-2 in Game 7s, losing two with the Cavaliers and winning one with the Heat.

Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have provided little support for the Heat. Wade is averaging 13.6 points this postseason, his worst in any postseason in his career and the first time he’s averaged under 20 points per game since 2003-04 (his first postseason), when he averaged 18.0 points.

Likewise, Chris Bosh’s 12.5 points per game average is his lowest in any postseason. Bosh has scored fewer than 10 points in each of his past three games, his longest such streak since a run of four straight games in February, 2004.

Pacers pull role-reversal in 3rd quarter

June, 2, 2013
6/02/13
12:05
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
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The Pacers shot lights-out in the third quarter ...


And the Heat could not match them.

The Miami Heat had won each of their previous six games when they had a chance to close out a postseason series. But they couldn’t get that lucky seventh, falling to the Indiana Pacers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

LeBron James did not get much help from his teammates in this one, save for a couple of late 3-pointers by Mike Miller. The Pacers got plenty of contributions, most notably from Paul George and Roy Hibbert. They also held the Heat to 36 percent shooting from the field, Miami's worst field-goal percentage in any game this season.

Game 7 will be Monday night in Miami, but before we get to that, let’s run through some of the statistical highlights in Game 6.

Difference in the Game: Third Quarter
The Pacers outplayed the Heat in the third quarter similar to how the Heat outplayed the Pacers in Game 5.

The shot chart atop this story and the graphic on the right tell the story pretty well.

The Pacers dominated in the paint, outscoring the Heat 16-0 within the paint in those 12 minutes. They outscored the Heat by 22 points in the paint for the game, Miami's worst paint-points differential this postseason.

James did not score in the pivotal period until scoring six points in the final 93 seconds of the quarter.

Indiana’s starting frontcourt dominated the game, outscoring the Heat frountcourt 63-34 (with 29 of those 34 coming from James).

Chris Bosh scored only five points for the Heat, his lowest scoring total in any postseason game.

Elias noted that the 15 combined points by Dwyane Wade and Bosh are the fewest for the two of them in a game together since becoming teammates (regular season or postseason).

Their previous low was 17 done twice before (Nov. 14, 2012 in a 107-100 loss against the Los Angeles Clippers, as well as two days ago in the Game 5 win).

George’s Turnaround, Hibbert's impact
George scored more points in Game 6 (28) than he did in Game 3 and Game 4 combined (25). Since those two games, in which he shot 35 percent from the field, George has had back-to-back games in which he shot an identical 11-for-19 from the field.

Hibbert surpassed 20 points for the fifth straight game, but made a big impact on defense too.

The Heat only made nine field goals inside of five feet, their second-fewest in a game so far this season. The only other time they made fewer field goals from this distance was on January 8, also versus the Pacers.

Looking to Game 7
This will be the second Game 7 of this postseason. The road team (Chicago Bulls) won the last one, but home teams have a significant edge in Game 7s, winning 89 of 112 (79.5 percent).

The Heat are 3-3 all-time in Game 7s. The Pacers are 2-3, with all five games coming on the road. The two wins came against the New York Knicks in 1995 and the Boston Celtics in 2005.

The Heat are 3-2 all-time in home Game 7s, including a win vs the Celtics in last year's Eastern Conference Finals

This will be James' fourth career Game 7. His teams are 1-2 in those winner-take-all games, losing two on the road with the Cavaliers before winning at home against the Celtics last season to advance to the NBA Finals.

James is averaging 34.3 points in those three Game 7s. Elias notes that he has the highest Game 7 scoring average in NBA history, for those who played in multiple Game 7s.

Paul George key for Pacers on the road

May, 30, 2013
5/30/13
12:10
PM ET
By ESPN Statistics & Information
ESPN.com
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Ron Hoskins/NBAE/Getty Images
While the Indiana Pacers have underperformed on the road this postseason, Paul George has played well away from home.

Heading into Game 5 in Miami on Thursday, the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat find themselves tied 2-2 in a playoff series for the second consecutive season. Last season, the Pacers and Heat were tied at two games each in the Eastern Conference Semifinals before the Heat won games 5 and 6 to advance to the Conference Finals.

Game 5 will be pivotal for both teams. When a best-of-7 series is tied 2-2, the winner of Game 5 goes on to wins the series 83.4 percent of the time.



Despite winning Game 2 in Miami, the Pacers have underperformed on the road this postseason. They are 3-5 on the road and 7-1 at home.

Paul George will be one of the key players to watch. While the Pacers have underperformed away from home as a team this postseason, George has been hot on the road. In this series, George is averaging 24.5 points per game on the road, compared to 12.5 PPG at home.

George was the one who forced overtime in Game 1 in Miami with 0.7 seconds remaining. Entering that game, George had been 0-of-9 on game-tying or go-ahead shots in the final 24 seconds of the fourth quarter or overtime this season.

George has also performed well against LeBron James. He was 6-of-7 with 16 points when guarded by James in Game 2, and is shooting 62 percent against him in the series.

One aspect of the Pacers’ home form that they will need to bring back to South Beach is their play on the boards. The Pacers grabbed 49 rebounds in Game 4, 19 more than the Heat. According to Elias, that ties Miami’s second-worst rebounding margin in any postseason game in team history. They were outrebounded by 23 against the Bulls in Game 2 of a 1992 playoff series (the second postseason game in Miami’s NBA history) and by 19 by the Bulls in Game 1 in 1997.

Roy Hibbert has been a major factor in the Pacers’ success on the boards. He has had three consecutive games with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds, a career-high for both regular season and playoffs. In this series Hibbert is averaging 12.0 RPG, compared to 8.0 RPG in three regular-season games against the Heat.

The Heat will need to shake off Game 4 and turn things back around in order to regain the upper-hand. Miami has not lost consecutive games since January 8-10. They are 1-1 at home this series and have not lost two home games in a single playoff series since the 2011 NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks.

The Pacers will need to continue to focus on shutting down LeBron when he is close to the basket. James was 1-of-6 on post-ups in Game 4 after shooting 5-of-9 with 14 points on such plays in Game 3. He was double-teamed on three of his field goal attempts in the post last game, compared to only one attempt in Game 3.

Roy Hibbert is the Pacers MVP

May, 29, 2013
5/29/13
1:15
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
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Roy Hibbert has been the difference for the Indiana Pacers.

The Pacers took advantage of their size advantage down low, primarily with Hibbert, in Game 4.

Roy Hibbert
Hibbert
The big man had 23 points and 12 rebounds in the Pacers’ Game 4 victory. Hibbert joins Dirk Nowitzki (2011 NBA Finals) as the only players with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in three straight postseason games against the Heat in the “Big 3” era.

The Pacers did a better job of getting the ball to Hibbert in the post. He scored 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting on post-ups in Game 4 after going 5-of-13 on post-ups with 17 points in the first three games of the series combined.

Hibbert has scored 20 points in the paint in each of the Pacers’ wins this series. In the two losses, he has 22 total paint points. He’s shooting 20-for-28 in the paint in the two wins, including 10-for-13 in Game 4, and 13-for-30 in the two losses.

After LeBron James’s game-winning layup with no time remaining in Game 1 came with Hibbert off the court, there’s been a lot of talk about Hibbert’s impact around the basket on the defensive end.

The Pacers took Hibbert out of the game for the final seconds of the first half in Game 4, and again LeBron took advantage with a drive to the basket for a layup.

LeBron has driven to the basket 18 times with Hibbert on the court this series. On those 18 drives, he has five points on 1-for-3 shooting and has passed the ball 11 times.

With Hibbert off the court, LeBron has scored 11 points on 5-for-6 shooting with three passes on 10 drives.

Hibbert wasn’t the only Pacers player who played tough in Game 4. As a team, the Pacers focused on limiting LeBron in the post. LeBron was 1-of-6 on post-ups in Game 4 after shooting 5-of-9 with 14 points on post-ups in Game 3. LeBron was double-teamed on three of his field-goal attempts in the post in Game 4, compared with only one attempt in Game 3.

Winning the battle down low may be the key for the rest of the series for Hibbert and the Pacers.

George, Hibbert get better of James

May, 25, 2013
5/25/13
1:05
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
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The Indiana Pacers were able to finish the job against the Miami Heat this time, knotting their Eastern Conference finals series at a game apiece.

It was a contest that appeared to be headed toward an ending similar to that of Game 1. But this time it was the Pacers who came through and LeBron James who did not. Here's a look at some of the key stats we tracked from Indiana's victory.

Plays of the game: The turnovers
James had two turnovers in the game’s final minute, which is extremely unusual for him.

This was the first postseason game in his career in which he had two turnovers in the game’s final 60 seconds.

In 125 previous playoff games, James had turned the ball over only seven times in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime.

Roy Hibbert was on the court when James drove into the lane and turned the ball over with eight seconds remaining. James has one basket and four turnovers on drives to the basket in which Hibbert is on the floor in these two games. When Hibbert is off the court, James has four baskets (on five shots) and no turnovers on drives to the hoop.

James finished with three assists and five turnovers. The last time he had more turnovers than assists in a game was March 27 against the Chicago Bulls, a 101-97 loss that snapped the Heat’s 27-game winning streak.

Inside the James-George matchup
James was 10-of-14 shooting against Paul George in Game 2 with 25 points, but was unable to score against him in the final 2:43.

James is shooting 18-of-31 (58 percent) against George in the series.

On the other end, George shot 6-of-7 against James with 16 points in Game 2. He’s actually been better against James than James has been against him through the first two games of this series.

The chart on the right shows how each has performed in that matchup.

Hibbert’s offensive impact
Hibbert finished with 29 points, one shy of his career high, and scored a postseason career-high 20 paint points in Game 2, with five of his 10 paint field goals as the pick-and-roll man.

Hibbert finished with 14 points as the pick-and-roll man Friday, including two baskets in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter.

Hibbert is only the second Pacers player to have at least 29 points and 10 rebounds in a playoff game. Jermaine O’Neal did it twice, in 2002 and 2006.

A few thoughts about Roy Hibbert

May, 23, 2013
5/23/13
12:29
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
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Mornings like these make the NBA so much fun, especially when the debate touches on concrete strategy rather than abstractions.

On the surface, whether Pacers coach Frank Vogel should have left Roy Hibbert on the floor during crucial, late-game defensive possessions is a binary decision, but several factors govern Vogel's strategy in that situation. Although I'm strongly with the majority opinion that says when defensive possessions matter most you have your best defenders on the floor, the doubts implicitly expressed by Vogel when he left his 7-foot-2 center on the sideline must also be addressed.

If Vogel decides to not match down to the Heat's smaller lineup, here are a few fun counterfactual strategies to consider -- some more sensible than others.
  • With 2.2 seconds left, an NBA defense is immune from a defensive 3-second call and can effectively zone up against any play. A zone defense is vulnerable to all kinds of hazards, open shots most prominent among them, because the goal is to guard space rather than individuals. Not having a specific guy tasked with defending specific scorers is risky, especially if one of those scorers is named LeBron James. But the Pacers are uniquely equipped to run a matchup zone for 2.2 seconds. Place Hibbert inside the circle, match up Paul George on James and zone the back side of the floor. The Pacers have some of the most capable, long-armed gap defenders in basketball and close space on shooters better than any team in the league. Zoning up would take away just about anything at the rim, though it would leave the Pacers vulnerable to a potential midrange shot from Chris Bosh -- a pretty reasonable trade-off, if not an ideal one.
  • Too dangerous, especially since the most prolific long-distance shooter in history is licking his chops on the weak side? Then how about not guarding the inbounder, Shane Battier, leaving Hibbert underneath and going with a man-to-man defense on the other four Miami players? It's a tough call, because ball pressure is essential and, as every coach at every level preaches, somebody must account for the inbounder once the ball is put in play. But let's replay the possession with Battier passing the ball in to James as he did Wednesday night. James is a willing passer and could conceivably return the ball to Battier, who stands 30 feet from the basket, with 1-point-whatever seconds remaining on the clock. It's safe to say that's a shot the Pacers can live with.
  • If you're not feeling the zone strategy and you also believe, as Vogel did, that Hibbert's lack of mobility was too much of a liability against a fast-moving, screen-heavy set with multiple shooters on the floor, then consider assigning Hibbert to cover the inbound pass. Approximately 2.5 million people were in Miami-Dade last night. If you asked Battier to list in descending order those he'd least like to see standing in front of him as he prepared to throw the ball inbounds to a Heat teammate, it's a good bet Hibbert would have been at the top of that list. The best use of Hibbert is still near the basket, but if he makes you nervous at the top of the circle when you know a back screen for Bosh is on the way, why not put him to some use by allowing him to disrupt an inbound pass then race after the ball for a possible block from behind?
  • Let Hibbert sink or swim. Those defending Vogel's decision have a point -- a down screen for Bosh is a tough switch for Hibbert. But there are creative ways to play it: (1) Have Lance Stephenson switch on to Bosh, as he did. (2) Have Hibbert drop immediately to the paint. (3) Have David West, who was guarding the inbounds pass, switch on to Allen as he sprinted to the sideline since he was effectively there. Again, Battier would be the open man, but at 30 feet or so.

The Pacers outlasted their rivals in the East because they brought length, speed and versatility to the defensive end and had the rim protection provided by Hibbert. For nearly 100 games, Vogel has stayed true to that formula, but he had a crisis of faith when it mattered most. On Wednesday night, perfect defense was the enemy of the good defense.

It didn't help that his best man defender, George, got annihilated so quickly and absolutely. Had Hibbert been standing at the rim, it's easy to imagine James shuttling a pass to Bosh for the duck-in or kicking the ball out to another shooter. Credit James for presenting that kind of challenge. For years, critics have killed him for not wanting to take the last shot, but ask yourself this:

If James were an I'm-shooting-at-all-cost player, would Vogel have been so concerned about the supporting cast that he would leave his rim protector on the bench out of fear of an open shooter?

Pacers trio makes significant impact on 'd'

May, 5, 2013
5/05/13
9:19
PM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
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Paul George was one of the big keys to the Pacers win in Game 1.

The Indiana Pacers won Game 1 against the New York Knicks with defense and did so thanks to three players in particular- Paul George, Roy Hibbert, and Lance Stephenson.

Here’s a thorough breakdown of the numbers that best illustrate that.

George’s impact
George led the NBA in Defensive Win Shares and showed why with his Game 1 work against Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith.

The shot chart above shows how both of those Knicks fared when George was their primary defender. That duo was 9-for-19 against the Pacers other defenders, but only 5-for-24 combined against George.

Hibbert’s impact
The Knicks were held to 43 percent shooting from inside five feet with Hibbert on the court on Sunday (league average on such shots: 59 percent).

The Pacers have outscored opponents by 50 points inside five feet with Hibbert on the floor this postseason and have been outscored by 22 with Hibbert on the bench.

You can see a more detailed breakdown in the cHart on the right.

Stephenson’s impact
Stephenson provided an unexpected spark Sunday, scoring 11 points and grabbing a career-high 13 rebounds.

The Pacers defense has been better with Stephenson on the court throughout the playoffs, allowing 90.8 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor and 112.0 with him off the floor.

On Sunday, they outscored the Knicks by 17 and held them to 38 percent shooting in Stephenson’s 39 minutes.

In the nine minutes Stephenson was out, the Knicks outscored the Pacers by 10, and shot 69 percent, including 4-for-7 from 3-point range.

Looking ahead: Something has to give
The Knicks are 0-5 all-time in playoff series’ after losing Game 1 at home, including 0-3 in best-of-7s.

Sunday marked their first such loss since the 1995 Eastern Conference semifinals, when they lost Game 1 on Reggie Miller’s eight-point late-game outburst.

The Pacers have actually lost the last three playoff series in which they’ve won Game 1 on the road since that 1995 series.

Building an offense in Indiana

April, 2, 2013
4/02/13
2:59
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
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David West
Jeff Gross/NBAE/Getty Images
David West knows how to find a mismatch, control a possession and encourage Paul George.

LOS ANGELES -- Things got sticky late for the Indiana Pacers, and there was nothing artful about the conclusion of their 109-106 win over the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center. The Pacers let a 24-point third-quarter lead dwindle down to two and their crucial bucket with 49 seconds remaining came on an ugly possession during which the ball never came close to the paint until just before the shot clock buzzer. If not for David West’s step-back jumper over Blake Griffin, the game could’ve been a calamity for Indiana.

But West came through, and the Pacers’ locker room was festive after the game. Certain allowances are afforded to teams that log a 4-0 road trip through the Western conference, even if the landing is bumpy.

The source of the Pacers’ good spirit of late is their invigorated offense. At the outset of the season, scoring was a chore for the Pacers. There’s never been a lack of effort in Indianapolis, but every possession seemed like a grind, and open looks at the basket came hourly, if that.

Since the midpoint of their season on January 21, the Pacers have boasted the 10th most efficient offense in the NBA, a remarkable improvement for a team that ranked 28th on New Year’s Day. During their current five-game winning streak, the Pacers have scored well over 100 points per 100 possessions in each contest, and racked up 109 points against the Clippers in 90 possessions unofficially, good for an eye-popping 121.1 efficiency rating. Indiana’s defense has been the gold standard in the NBA since Day 1, but an offense that can produce at that level should put a scare into any team it confronts in the postseason.

The starting five hasn’t changed, nor has a bench that’s short on offensive punch. So how have the Pacers breathed life into their attack? Five observations from the Pacers' win over the Clippers:
  • Paul George is growing up. The lanky wing has graduated from curio to catalyst for the Pacers, learning not just how to create for himself, but effectively anchor a half-court offense. George is still most comfortable in isolation, but he’s recognized there are opportunities around him if he applies a little vision. “The more room I have, the more comfortable I feel,” George said before the game. “The next level is what I’m working on now.”
  • The Pacers are getting into their stuff more quickly, and delivering the ball to West in the high post is often the departure point. West was a pick-and-roll practitioner for most of his career in New Orleans alongside Chris Paul, but he's developed a firm understanding of where shots will come from in the half court. Twice on Monday, West found a mismatch for himself, using a brush screen on the perimeter in tandem with George to draw Caron Butler. Not considered a mobile big, West nevertheless knows when to leak out against a flat-footed defense, and found a couple of buckets in transition as well.
  • West is doing wonders for George's expanding offensive game, and the two have developed a chemistry that's producing results. "We've been learning each other as the year's gone on and he's in a new role," West said of working with George in a two-man game. One quality that's measurably different about George's game is his awareness of where West is in the half court when George needs help. As teams load up on George, he and West almost telepathically devise a plan to release the pressure. "We talk about passing windows, giving him alleys to make passes," West said. "We pride ourselves on being able to -- if you take away our first option -- get the ball moving to the other side and being able to punish teams on the back side."
  • The mystery of Roy Hibbert's resurgence continues. Ask him, his coach or his teammates where anything has changed about his form or mechanics, and all you get are shrugs. So what's Hibbert doing now that he wasn't at the start of the season? "The tougher question is, 'Why wasn’t he finishing before?'" Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. "What he’s doing now is what we’ve come to expect." Hibbert led all scores on Monday night, recording 26 points on 11-for-14 shooting from the field. Hibbert offered his own theories: "Don't force things," he said. "I come in on my days off and try to get better. I try to mimic David West's workouts." Vogel offered another theory prior to the game. When Hibbert couldn't buy buckets earlier in the season, Vogel encouraged the center to focus on anchoring the defense. Sure, be mindful of opportunities on the other end, but do it with less deliberate effort and more in the flow of the offense. After the game, West mentioned that the Pacers were aware of the Clippers' uneasiness about double-teaming down low. That was the cue for Hibbert, and he delivered.
  • George talks about learning to work in the post, given the size advantage he often enjoys against his defensive counterpart. When the Clippers went to Jamal Crawford as their nominal small forward late on Monday, George looked to post him up. The Pacers had trouble finding George, despite the mismatch, but George is eager to keep trying. “[Crawford] fronted me, but [the Clippers] had a big helping, shadowing behind me,” George said. “It was a little difficult, but it’s something we just have to work on. It’s a learning process.” George prefers a layer of space around him when he's working, something post play doesn't accommodate, but his willingness to learn will mean a lot to the offense.

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