Pacers say they're not underdogs vs. Heat
By CLIFF BRUNT
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) The Indiana Pacers seemed annoyed by constant questions about their underdog status against the Miami Heat.
The Pacers know they are expected to lose their second-round series, which begins Sunday in Miami. After all, the Heat went to the finals last year and the Pacers just won their first playoff series since 2005.
But the Pacers don't feel they should have much to prove - they believe a 42-24 regular-season record and No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs should be good enough for the critics to give them a chance.
"I don't know if it's about respect," Pacers forward Danny Granger said. "It's about basketball. It's about finding out who's the better team. We're a good team. They're a good team. It's going to be a battle."
Pacers coach Frank Vogel calls it an even contest. He noted that Indiana has a better record than Miami since the All-Star break, and the Pacers have won their last seven road games, including two in their first-round series against Orlando.
"I think we're just embracing the challenge," he said. "I feel like we are one of the best teams in the league. We are not viewing this in any way, shape or form like a David-vs.-Goliath type of meeting. We are not the underdog here. This is two heavyweights going toe to toe."
Granger seemed surprised by the notion that the Pacers weren't supposed to win.
"I don't think we're underdogs by any means," he said. "Miami has more recognition, honestly, with their big three guys, but I think we're a good team as well."
Though the Pacers are new to the playoffs, coach Frank Vogel pulled a veteran move after Thursday's practice. He called the Heat the "biggest flopping team in the NBA," perhaps trying to plant a seed in the minds of the officials before tipoff.
"It'll be very interesting to see how the referees officiate this series and how much flopping they reward," he said. "Every time you drive to the basket, they've got a guy who's not making a play on the ball, but sliding in front of drivers all the time. They're falling down before contact is even made."
Vogel also is worried that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh could get star treatment from the officials. The Pacers are effective using 7-foot-2 All-Star center Roy Hibbert as a defender at the rim, but Vogel is worried that he might get into foul trouble if the game is called closely.
"We going to have to be conscious of how we're utilizing Roy to try to dominate on the defensive end," he said. "We've got our work cut out for us."
Danny Granger will guard James most of the time, but he will get help. Though James is dangerous as a creator in the half-court and in the pick and roll, the Pacers' biggest challenge in slowing him will be in transition.
"It's a tall order," Vogel said. "Obviously, you want to load to the ball. You don't want to leave our guys one-on-one in transition. You have to recognize that he's such a great passer, too. As much as he's a freight train in transition at times, as soon as you bring three to the ball, he's finding a shooter on the weak side. It's a lethal transition attack. We've just got to have more guys back, and the more guys we have back, the better."
Regardless, the Pacers don't plan to change much going into the series. After all, they have a 16-4 record since the start of April. They have successfully used depth, a suffocating defense and team-oriented play on offense throughout the season.
"You've got to go with what you've got," Indiana forward David West said. "That's the formula we're going to use. That's the formula we've trusted throughout the year. We're going to continue to trust it."
The Pacers have enjoyed their rise with little fanfare. They feel that they have been overlooked, and they relish the chance to battle a team with Miami's reputation on a national stage.
"We know it's a great opportunity," West said. "We're going to try to maximize this opportunity that we have ahead of us. You may not get this opportunity again."
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Updated May 10, 2012