INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Indiana coach Frank Vogel is known for his bold declarations.
He’s toning it down, at least for now.
The Pacers are in a new role as postseason favorites in Vogel’s first full season as head coach. As much time as Vogel has spent building his team up the past 15 months, now he has to teach a different lesson heading into the playoffs – guarding against overconfidence.
Orlando’s All-Star center, Dwight Howard, is out for the season after having back surgery. Howard averaged 23.8 points and 10.8 rebounds while shooting 69 percent from the field against Indiana this season and the Magic took three of four in the regular-season series.
Vogel said Orlando’s offensive style, which focuses on spacing the floor and shooting 3-pointers, will present a challenge when their first-round playoff series opens on Saturday night. Orlando led the league in 3-pointers made and attempted and was third in percentage (.375).
“Anybody that knows basketball knows that a 3-point shooting team like Orlando is extremely dangerous,” Vogel said. “It doesn’t matter who’s in the middle, they can get red hot and shoot you out of the game. Our antennas are going to be up, and we’ll be ready to go.”
Orlando forward Ryan Anderson led the league with 166 3-pointers this season. Indiana will have to deal with a combination of Glen “Big Baby” Davis, Earl Clark and Daniel Orton inside.
“Their spread pick-and-roll attack, whether it’s Dwight Howard rolling to the basket, or Big Baby or Earl Clark or Orton, they are extremely dangerous the way they spread the floor with Anderson and all those shooters,” Vogel said. “In a lot of ways, they are just as dangerous, and in some ways, even more dangerous because they shoot all those 3s.”
Orlando’s players said being without Howard has been an adjustment.
“Our game has changed,” Magic point guard Jameer Nelson said. “Over the past two weeks, we’ve been without the most dominant player in the game, but we just have to stick together and help out defensively and do things the right way.”
Another injured Orlando player, Hedo Turkoglu, had cheekbone surgery on April 7 and will play with a mask.
“It’s not comfortable at all, but for my safety I have to put it on,” Turkoglu said. “I don’t know how long I will hold onto that, but especially in the beginning of the playoffs, I will wear it, but I can’t promise for how long.”
Davis, who sprained an ankle last week, is expected to start Game 1.
Missing Howard is a particular problem against the Pacers because Indiana is one of the biggest teams in the league. All-Star center Roy Hibbert is 7-foot-2 and David West at 6-9 is one of the league’s strongest players. Lou Amundson and Tyler Hansbrough bring energy off the bench.
“There are two major challenges with them and they go hand in hand,” Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said. “Their size is just a major challenge for us. Clearly we’re not loaded with size right now and they are. Going from Hibbert to David West and then Amundson and Hansbrough off the bench, and then their wing guys are both 6-9. Their size is a major issue and then they’re also very, very difficult to score on.”
Indiana’s only injury issue involves reserve guard Leandro Barbosa. He is nursing a sprained left ankle, and Vogel said he is a game-time decision.
Orlando has more postseason experience than Indiana, but the Pacers have come on the past two seasons. Last year, Indiana barely got into the playoffs after a postseason drought, then played Chicago tough before losing their first-round series 4-1.
Last year’s experience has helped the Pacers carry a sense of calm heading into this year’s playoffs.
“I think we’re even more focused this year,” Pacers forward Danny Granger said. “I think we had a focus last year against the Bulls, but this year we’re even more focused. Last year, we were kind of limping in, try to get into the playoffs.”
Indiana has added playoff veterans West, Barbosa and George Hill. The third-seeded Pacers have home-court advantage in the series. They went 12-3 in April, and Vogel was selected Eastern Conference Coach of the Month on Friday.
Granger averaged 21.6 points in April, seventh-best in the league, and the Pacers went 11-2 in the games he played. He has averaged 7.8 points in the fourth quarter and overtime in 10 games since the start of April. During those stretches he shot 47 percent from the field, made 12 of 19 3-pointers and hit 16 of 17 free-throw attempts. Indiana won eight of those games, and his play has a lot to do with Indiana’s confidence level.
“This year, we have a lot more expectations,” Granger said. “We’re the favorite in this series. We know that. For us to go in not expecting to win would be selling ourselves short.”
Vogel believes the Pacers have the right approach.
“Last year, I didn’t know how these guys were going to perform,” he said. “They had never been there before. Now, they’ve tasted it. It’s a much more confident feel.”