On Sunday, the Indiana Pacers defeated the New Jersey Nets 105 - 86 for their fourth straight win under interim Head Coach Frank Vogel. It was their second straight win on the road, and their fifth in the last six games.
Mike Dunleavy was five of six from downtown, as he finished with 17 points. Six players for Indiana scored in double figures, including Dahntay Jones' season-high 18. He came on strong in the fourth quarter and really put an exclamation point on the game.
The game was never really close, as rookie Paul George continued his impressive play, scoring 11 of his 14 points in the first half, on a number of highlight plays. Darren Collison added ten for the Pacers.
Danny Granger and Roy Hibbert had identical stat lines, with 11 points, four assists, and three rebounds.
The Pacers are averaging 107 points per game as a team over the four games that Frank Vogel has been the head coach. The offense has been the biggest problem for this team all year, but it looks to be turning the corner. They have scored at least 100 points in each of their games during the four-game winning streak.
The Pacers have completed four of their ten games before the All-Star break under coach Vogel, and won them all. They face their toughest challenge yet though, on Tuesday night, as they head to Miami to take on one of the best teams in the league. Indiana beat the Heat in Miami by 16 points back on November 22, but this is a completely different Miami team. This will be the real test to see how much this team has improved. If they can keep this game close into the fourth quarter, and not lose by double-digits, it could be something to hang their hat on.
Just hearing from the players, you can really tell there is restored confidence in this team, which has come from coach Vogel.
Roy Hibbert seems to have finally gotten out of his groove since the head coaching change was made. He had two points in 21 minutes in the Pacers loss to the Bulls in Jim O'Brien's final game as head coach. Since Vogel has taken over, Hibbert is averaging 16 points per game through the four game span.
Hibbert isn't the only one either. Rookie Paul George has been on fire the past four games, and has been making spectacular plays on both offense and defense. It's hard to imagine, but he has been outplaying Granger in a lot of these games, and Vogel has taken notice.
Listening to the Pacers radio broadcast during the game, long-time Pacers announcer Mark Boyle said something that really caught my attention. Just before halftime, Boyle said "In my 23 years with this organization, I think Paul George has the potential to become the best player this franchise has ever seen." That is a bold statement considering the players that Boyle is comparing him to.
It is unlikely that the Pacers will reach the 5-0 mark under Frank Vogel, but the confidence that has been restored in this team should carry over into the second half of the season. While they face a major challenge Tuesday in Miami against the Big Three, they will return home after that for a couple of home games with the Bobcats and Timberwolves before heading to Milwaukee to face the Bucks.
Those games will be crucial in the race for the playoffs in the East. The Bobcats, Bucks, Pacers, Pistons, and 76ers are all fighting for that final spot, and it is anybody's guess as to who will land it. This winning streak for the Pacers though, has vaulted them back into the eighth spot in the East, for now.