|ESPN.com: NBA Playoffs 2012||[Print without images]|
MIAMI -- The Pacers could have taken the scenic route into Miami for the start of their second-round playoff series this weekend against the heavily favored Heat.
Instead, Frank Vogel detoured through statement street.
He elected to burst into the room, banging a tambourine and kicking over furniture to draw even more attention to a series that didn't need much manufactured chatter.
He decided to boldly announce his presence by offending the Heat, referring to their prolific ability to draw offensive fouls as flopping -- a tactic coaches use to send a pre-emptive message to referees to get their whistles ready.
In other words, Frank Vogel chose to go Frank White. Gangster. He should have gone Frank Sinatra.
Vogel could have serenaded the Heat by addressing the challenge of facing the season's likely MVP in LeBron James or the difficulties of trying to win on the road against a Heat team that tied for the league's best home record.
If the Pacers' purpose is to steal one of the first two games in Miami, with Game 1 on Sunday, and swing home-court advantage in their favor, why not lull James, Dwyane Wade & Co. to sleep, pepper them with praise and pounce with an ambush?
Instead, Vogel added heat to the headlines, spice to the series storylines, fuel to an opponent that needed little in the way of motivational fire amid a title-or-bust journey.
"Pretty much, that's all it is," Heat forward Chris Bosh said Friday in response to comments from Vogel and Indiana players about facing Miami. "It's fantastic motivation. The second round is the second round. If guys want to respect them, then that's great. We're not really worried about that. We know the challenges they bring; we know what they're capable of. We played them four times this year. Respect or no respect, it's the second round of the playoffs and we're playing for a title. Nothing else."
Despite all the cage fight descriptions and dramatic talk that has gone back and forth the past few days since Indiana eliminated Orlando and the Heat finished off the Knicks, it's highly unlikely tough talk will have much of an effect on this series when play starts Sunday.
At this point, the Heat have heard all the criticism -- so much so that they jokingly challenge naysayers to come up with new material. They have faced all the doubts, and have cataloged the naysayers and analysts.
The Pacers have all the tools -- size, talent, depth, scorers, defenders -- to garner the Heat's full attention and respect going into the series. They even have the footage to fall back on from the final two games of the regular-season series. Miami won three of the four matchups, including blowouts in the first two contests by a combined 50 points.
But the Pacers played much better the final two meetings, losing on a Wade jumper in overtime in Miami on March 10 before routing the Heat 105-90 two weeks later in Indiana. The Pacers have no reason to talk a good game right now when they actually have what it takes to play one.
But with Vogel calling the Heat the "biggest flopping team in the NBA," and with center Roy Hibbert suggesting Miami built its star-studded roster the "easy way" and with other Pacers playing the lack-of-respect card, it's hard to tell whether Indiana is digging in for a major upset or laying a thick foundation of excuses in case it falls short against Miami.
There are a few strategies capable of defeating the Heat. I'm sure disrespecting them in the media isn't one of them.
"It's the playoffs. If you need motivation in the playoffs, it can be a little problem," James said Friday. "We don't get caught up in that, honestly. We just want to play the game. And Game 1 is what we're looking forward to. We've been thrown under the bus, and we've heard the worst. We've heard everything."
The Heat didn't offer much in response to the Pacers' complaints and issues. In fact, Miami's players decided to the flip the flopping concerns and instead credit Indiana for a strong season that landed it the No. 3 seed in the East.
"They're a very good team," Wade said. "If you know basketball, you knew they would get better as the year went on. You've seen them get better as the year went on. So it was a very underrated team. But the teams that play them know how good they are."
Heat forward Udonis Haslem even went as far as to acknowledge Vogel's First Amendment rights.
"It's a free country, and everybody is entitled to their opinion," Haslem said. "If that's the way he feels, that's the way he feels. It's not going to change our game."
Wade said his teammates long ago stopped trying to go word for word with opposing teams. A year ago, it was different. Last year, they were heat sensitive.
Last season, you'd hear Haslem fire back at the Celtics and refer to Paul Pierce as a "studio gangster." You'd read LeBron's tweets about "taking mental notes" of the haters. The Heat even had a team hand gesture they'd use after making big plays as a signal to shut up opposing fans.
Now, the talk is answered with a take-it-leave-it shrug.
"I think we've grown from last year," Wade said. "We really don't care. We have a goal. And in this series, our goal is to win four games. That's all it's about."
This series won't swing on talk or insults.
Vogel should check out how well that worked last series for Amare Stoudemire, who declared earlier this year that New York would go big-game hunting in South Florida.
The Heat never really took the bait.
Instead, the Knicks became it.
The Pacers are a much better opponent in the second round. Vogel should feel confident about his team's chances. The Pacers certainly won't back down from the Heat.
But it might not be a bad idea to shut up about them. At least until Indiana accomplishes something in the series.