Tom Lewis said it best here on Indy Cornrows this morning, "Organizations have to adapt to succeed as circumstances around them change." From the beginning, the Pacers' stated goal was to go after the East's No. 1 seed. However, after seemingly limping to the finishing line and going just 13-13 since the All-Star break, Frank Vogel has decided that it is time to alter the team's focus.
In what will likely be the shot heard around the world in the NBA community, the Pacers have decided that the first step to getting back on track is to get the five starters some much needed rest beginning with tonight's match-up against the Milwaukee Bucks. This, of course, is a controversial move given that the combination of a Pacers' win in Milwaukee and Heat loss in Memphis would position Indiana, at least temporarily, back atop the Eastern Conference standings. Even so, Frank Vogel tells Candace Buckner of the Indy Star that, while it may be a criticized decision, resting the starting five is a strategic choice that needs to be made for the bigger picture and long-term betterment of the team:
#Pacers coach Frank Vogel on resting starters in MKE: "We want to try to get the starters on track by getting their legs back under them...— Candace Buckner (@CandaceDBuckner) April 9, 2014
I asked Vogel if he felt he was getting bashed for changing course. He said: "I feel like I will. But we got to do it anyway...— Candace Buckner (@CandaceDBuckner) April 9, 2014
Vogel: "We got to do what's best for our team."— Candace Buckner (@CandaceDBuckner) April 9, 2014
After watching the Heat lose at home to the Brooklyn Nets last night, many spectators may still believe that the Pacers should continue to push for the one goal they talked about all season. No doubt the privilege of a hosting a potential Game 7 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse is a worthwhile goal, but it is nothing more than an empty dream if the Pacers are unable to right the ship heading into the postseason:
Vogel: "Look, we spent all year with one goal and some point you got to shift your focus when things aren’t going your way...— Candace Buckner (@CandaceDBuckner) April 9, 2014
"...You got to shift your focus to not paying attention to what everybody else is doing and fixing your team…"— Candace Buckner (@CandaceDBuckner) April 9, 2014
"...and that’s the only thing that’s on our minds right now." Vogel on resting all five #Pacers starters tonight in Milwaukee— Candace Buckner (@CandaceDBuckner) April 9, 2014
Fatigue may not be the only thing ailing the Pacers this late in the season, but, at the very least, it is hard to argue that it is not one of the many contributing factors. Over at 8 points 9 seconds, Tim Donahue does an excellent job of laying out just how much tired legs may be impacting the starters' performance. When comparing the minutes played by the Pacers' top five to that of the league's other widely considered contenders, Donahue's findings are rather glaring:
What you see is that The Five of the Pacers have played - on average - almost 300 minutes more per player than the top 5 for Houston, who hold the second most minutes. That's 10 30-minute player games per player. The difference becomes even more exaggerated - almost 700 minutes per player - when you compare to paragons of economy: Greg Popovich's San Antonio Spurs.
Whether or not prioritizing rest over rhythm will serve as a cure all for this team's struggles is debatable. However, when facing off against a team that is currently 14-63, there may be no greater time than the present to choose to recharge the starting unit's batteries. As for some of the Blue and Gold's leaders, they fully support their coach's decision. With regard to being forced to watch his team compete from the sidelines, Paul George told Scott Agness of Pacers.com:
"It's a great decision, great decision for both our second unit as well as our starters to rest... for our bench guys to get some rhythm as well. It's great for us moving forward."
David West, one of players reported to have requested rest, echoed a similar sentiment about the starters' need to get their legs back under them:
"It's really important. Obviously we've been fairly healthy most of the year, which has been key for us. From that standpoint, I think for us it's about playing better basketball. We hadn't put together solid enough games before this point to be the all out 1-seed."
As of now, Frank Vogel says the team's plan, as it is every game, is to try to go out an earn a "W" with the team they put out on the floor. After having several days off to physically and mentally regroup, the five starters will suit-up for the fourth and final showdown against the Heat in South Beach.
With the way they played against Atlanta on Sunday, there is no guarantee of a repeat clash with the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, let alone a Game 7. Not to mention, success in the NBA playoffs is highly dependent upon favorable match-ups. In terms of seeding, perhaps embracing being second best is not such a bad thing, especially if it means Miami may have to face the winner of a highly competitive series between Chicago and Brooklyn. Whatever the case, like Tom wrote, circumstances around the team have changed and they have to adapt in order to still have a chance to succeed.To quote a cliche, this may not be a popular move, but doing what is popular is not always right. Given the current circumstances, the right move for this team is to focus on the here and now, not what may or may not be in June.