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.