Pacers relying on selflessness during perfect run

When Paul George looked up at the scoreboard Monday night and
realized Lance Stephenson was closing in on a triple-double, he got
right to work.

As George went on another scoring binge to help the Pacers pull
away from Memphis, he wanted Stephenson to share the spotlight. So
George quickly made a 20-foot jumper with 10:56 left in the game,
giving Stephenson his 10th assist, then jogged over to his teammate
and gave him a low-five.

It’s hardly an unprecedented sight around the NBA, but in a
league that has been built on big names, individual numbers and
1-on-1 matchups, George’s reaction was emblematic of what the
Pacers have become – a team that celebrates everyone’s
accomplishments.

”I think it’s different from most of the teams I’ve been
around, other than the last two or three years,” said coach Frank
Vogel, who has spent 17 seasons working in the NBA. ”I think this
is the most selfless team I’ve been part of.”

What the NBA’s last unbeaten team has cobbled together is a
perfect mix of productivity, stability and camaraderie.

Four of Indiana’s five starters are averaging double figures,
led by George (24.9 points) and Stephenson (14.3). Fans have
already been serenading George with chants of ”MVP! MVP!”, and
Stephenson has made no secret he wants to become the next Indiana
player to earn the league’s Most Improved Player Award. George won
it last season.

Center Roy Hibbert is on the cusp of joining the double-digit
club, averaging 9.9 points, but he’s more excited about leading NBA
in blocks (4.4). His goal is to win the league’s Defensive Player
of the Year Award.

Power forward David West, Indiana’s inspirational leader, might
have gotten more money in free agency last summer but decided to
stick around to make a title run with his pals. And guard George
Hill is continuing to develop his ball-handling skills as he
becomes a more consistent scorer.

Add all of that to a vastly improved bench that is only going to
get deeper when Danny Granger returns from a strained left calf,
perhaps as early as next week, plus the league’s No. 1 defense, and
it’s obvious why the Pacers could become the NBA’s first team to go
9-0 since the 2002-03 Mavericks, according to STATS. They play
together.

”I think we just built that (chemistry) over the years,”
George said Wednesday following a rare early season practice. ”I
think we always wanted to pull for one another before, but we
didn’t know how to do it. As the years went on and our core stayed
together, it’s helped. Now, when guys come in, they understand how
tight we are and how they will fit in.”

It’s no fluke.

When Larry Bird started transforming the Pacers from playoff
outsiders into title hopefuls, he wanted to build around a group of
players who worked relentlessly at improving. He wanted guys who
were comfortable filling roles and who could embrace a style that
would appeal to Indiana’s purist basketball fans. Most of all, he
wanted guys who were simply committed to doing whatever it took to
win.

The results have been impressive.

After falling to Miami in seven games in the Eastern Conference
finals, the Pacers returned this season on a bold mission to
dethrone the two-time defending champs.

So far, so good.

On Monday, Indiana completed a five-game sweep in seven days,
something Vogel noted he had never before experienced. The Pacers
return to action again this weekend with another back-to-back –
Friday at home against short-handed Milwaukee and Saturday at
Chicago against a hobbled Derrick Rose (hamstring).

The quick start, the best in franchise history, has already
given the Pacers a leg up. They lead the Bulls (3-3), who they beat
last week, by four games and have a three-game cushion over the
Heat.

Those numbers don’t mean much to these Pacers.

”We’re really not playing for the streak or being undefeated,”
George said. ”We just want to win every night.”

Hibbert doesn’t believe Indiana’s approach is all that different
from the rest of the NBA. He points out that the Heat’s trio of
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh likes to celebrate when
others play well and that other teams do the same thing.

The Pacers have just taken it to a different level.

”We want to see our teammates do well, we want them to eat,”
Hibbert explained.

And Indiana is hungry to do even more.

”We talk about it every day, at every film session,” Vogel
said. ”We make sure that guys are playing for each other. We
always say that when you have the basketball, you’ve got to think
pass and when you don’t have the basketball, you’ve got to think
score. It’s negotiating through screens and playing defense and
winning, together.”

Note: Vogel said Granger worked out Tuesday but was held out of
practice Wednesday because of soreness in his left calf. Neither
Granger nor Vogel were concerned that it was a setback. Vogel said
he would not completely rule Granger out of this weekend’s games,
though Granger said he hoped to return to game action next
week.