AJ Mast / AP

Indiana’s 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert, left, backs L.A. Clippers center DeAndre Jordan down under the basket during the Pacers’ win in Indianapolis on Saturday.

NBA Beat: In small ball era, Indiana believes bigger is better

Published: Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014 - 10:58 pm
Last Modified: Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014 - 11:38 pm

Indiana coach Frank Vogel admits he contemplated going with the trendy look back in 2011.

The days of the big, powerful lineup in the NBA seem to be going the way of the Converse Chuck Taylor shoe on the court.

Small ball is all the rave, threatening to make size in the frontcourt a laughing matter and making big men who can’t score from the 3-point line obsolete.

So it made sense Vogel would consider catching on and going small.

“Initially, (going small was an option) but our guys have really embraced that identity and there’s no real indecision on that anymore,” Vogel said.

The Pacers’ ability to play bigger than most teams has propelled them to an NBA-best 31-7 record.

The Pacers have emerged as the biggest threat to Miami in the Eastern Conference, but the Heat will have problems countering Indiana’s size if its secret weapon is relying on Greg Oden to get healthy and help out.

At a time when teams continue to look for more speed and athleticism at power forward, the Pacers went out and acquired another power forward who’s not a stretch power forward – veteran Luis Scola.

Scola backs up David West, a former All-Star who has no problem playing a physical style.

They join 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert and 6-foot-9 small forward Paul George to create a big and intimidating frontcourt.

West and Scola are the players most likely to deal with the stretch forwards who make the game a contest of quickness.

Vogel could easily use George in those situations and use Lance Stephenson or Danny Granger, as he continues to improve after his return from injury, at small forward.

But the Pacers pride themselves on being the biggest and roughest defensive group in the NBA and won’t downsize.

The approach has worked. Through Friday, the Pacers’ defense led the NBA in points allowed (88.1), opponent’s field-goal percentage (.409) and opponent’s 3-point field-goal percentage (.323).

“If a team goes small, David and Luis just say, ‘Which guy do you want me to guard?’ ” Vogel said. “And that’s the only thought process that goes into it. Early on, when we were building what we were building here, there was temptation to do that, but now we know we’re going to stay big.”

Trending up

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra and Vogel had said they expected the Eastern Conference to begin looking tougher after only two teams – theirs – were above .500 for much of the season.

They were right as now four teams – Miami, Indiana, Toronto and Atlanta – are above .500.

Washington crept up to .500, too, before losing Saturday. Brooklyn has found its footing lately, too, after a wretched start.

For a time, it appeared the winner of the Atlantic Division might be lucky to finish .500. Toronto now appears to be good enough to surpass 41 wins, barring injury or a cost-saving deal that would send one of its key players to a new team.

That’s not to say the Eastern Conference will be viewed as having more than two title contenders. But perhaps there won’t be a team with a record below .500 that can claim to be a division champion.

Trending down

Minnesota guard Ricky Rubio’s glaring hole in his game was known to be his shooting. But the third-year guard is shooting a career-worst 34.6 percent, even though his accuracy from 3-point range is a career-best 35.8 percent.

One of Rubio’s biggest problems is he’s not making shots around the basket. Rubio entered Saturday shooting 41.3 percent in the restricted area. He’d made 52 of 126 shots from eight feet and closer.

Last words

“From what I understand, he’s an (expletive) like me, so he’ll manage,” Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said to reporters in Boston on how Celtics guard Rajon Rondo would deal with being part of a rebuilding team.

Rondo’s response: “That’s a great compliment, coming from Kobe. I feel the same way about him.”

Follow The Bee’s Jason Jones on Twitter @mr_jasonjones and read more about the team at www.sacbee.com/kings.

Read more articles by Jason Jones

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