Pacers have high hopes after return to playoffs

High expectations have returned to Indiana.

Coach Frank Vogel could barely contain his excitement after

running his first practice since getting his interim tag removed

over the summer. The Pacers made the playoffs last season, and

Pacers president Larry Bird says he wants to add pieces to a solid

young core that features Danny Granger, Darren Collison, Roy

Hibbert, Paul George, George Hill and Tyler Hansbrough.

With plenty of money to spend in free agency, Indiana could be

on the verge of a breakthrough.

”There’s a buzz,” Vogel said. ”These guys have a buzz about

them. They know this could be a big year for the Pacers and they’re

excited to be back. They know what we accomplished last year, and

it was good, but not good enough.”

What looked like just a bunch of guys playing a pickup game on

Friday was so much more.

”The end portion of practice, about 15 to 20 minutes, I wanted

to intentionally not stop it,” he said. ”I wanted them going up

and down, and I wanted them to push their wind and challenge their

conditioning.”

Hansbrough said the transition from working out away from the

team for months to preparing for games in two weeks will be

challenging.

”We’re still trying to catch our stride a little bit,” he

said. ”It’s kind of like cramming for a test. But it looks like

everybody’s been working out, they’re in good shape, and hopefully,

we can get into game shape and get rolling.”

Hill, an Indianapolis native the Pacers picked up in a draft-day

trade with the San Antonio Spurs, liked what he saw during the

practice session.

”An edge to everybody,” he said. ”A chip on people’s

shoulders. It was great that we went to the playoffs, but none of

the guys are excited about that. They want to do better. They want

to bring basketball back to the Indiana Pacers like it’s always

been my whole life.”

Granger knows his teammates could be different tomorrow.

”We don’t know what free agents we’re going to add,” he said.

”There could be trades. All this could happen before Christmas, so

it’s kind of up in the air.”

Several players took advantage of the extended offseason.

Hibbert got stronger without losing mobility, Granger put on five

pounds of muscle he hopes to keep, George added eight pounds and

Hansbrough is fully healthy for the first time in years. Vogel

believes that his team’s mix of youth and experience will be an

advantage.

”I really think that the young teams and the really old teams

are the ones that are going to be hurt the most by this lockout,”

he said. ”The teams that are entering our prime, like us, that

have a core group back, are the ones that are going to be able to

take this lockout situation and make it a tremendous opportunity

for us to take that big step that we’re hoping to take.”

Granger is just glad to know there will be a season.

”It seemed like we wouldn’t have a season a lot of times,”

Granger said. ”Thankfully, the owners and the players came to some

accord and we have a season, so that’s really a blessing for

everybody.”

Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/cliffbruntap