Pacers improve to 3-0 under Vogel with win over Portland
By CLIFF BRUNT
AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Frank Vogel calls the NBA a players' league, yet the Indiana Pacers' interim coach has changed the struggling team's mentality and results in less than a week.
Danny Granger scored 25 points to help the Pacers beat the Portland Trail Blazers 100-87 on Friday night and improve to 3-0 under their new leader.
The Pacers fired Jim O'Brien on Sunday after the team lost seven of eight games. Now, Indiana has beaten Toronto, Cleveland and Portland, and the 37-year-old Vogel is brimming with confidence.
"This is a new team," he said. "A new beginning. We should be excited, OK? This is going to be a special end of the year, OK? Jump on board. Come out and see us."
Granger was questionable with a sinus infection, but he shot 7 for 13 from the field to help Indiana earn its first winning streak of more than two games this season.
Granger had been in a shooting slump, but his performance offered an example of Vogel's no-nonsense approach.
"Danny doesn't take bad shots anymore," Vogel said. "We don't take bad shots anymore. We attack the paint and we exercise patience for great shots."
Roy Hibbert scored 15 points and Tyler Hansbrough added 13 points and eight rebounds for the Pacers, who are averaging 107 points since firing O'Brien.
Indiana has outrebounded all three opponents by at least 17 under Vogel. The Pacers outrebounded the Trail Blazers 58-39 and outscored Portland 33-18 from the free-throw line.
"We're changing the identity of our basketball team -- dramatically," Vogel said. "We are a power post team, blood and guts, old school, smashmouth team, that plays with size, strength, speed, athleticism. We attack the basket."
Portland coach Nate McMillan said the seeds for those lopsided numbers were sown early.
"You can't start off the game soft and try to get aggressive, officials don't call it that way," he said.
Rudy Fernandez scored 19 points for the Trail Blazers, who have lost four of five.
Portland's top scorer, LaMarcus Aldridge, had 14 points and 10 rebounds before fouling out with 9:53 remaining.
"I just made a lot of dumb and silly mistakes," Aldridge said. "I was just too aggressive and got called for it."
Indiana squandered a 13-point lead in the second quarter, but recovered to lead 60-54 at halftime. The Pacers shot 53 percent before the break. It was the second-highest point total Portland has allowed in a first half this season.
"We are not playing with that sense of urgency," McMillan said. "We are not defending well. Teams have been the aggressor."
Indiana started off hot in the second half. A 3-pointer by Mike Dunleavy pushed the lead to 11, and a layup by Josh McRoberts gave Indiana a 67-56 lead and caused Portland to call a timeout.
Indiana regained its 13-point lead on a flip in the lane by McRoberts. In the closing seconds of the quarter, Paul George lost Fernandez with a crossover dribble, then swooped in for a left-handed layup to give Indiana an 86-72 lead at the end of the period. Granger scored 11 points in the quarter.
A putback by Hibbert stretched Indiana's lead to 93-73 with about nine minutes to play. The Pacers reached 100 points on a pair of free throws by Darren Collison with just over three minutes remaining.
"Indiana was playing very aggressive tonight," Fernandez said. "They have good players. We didn't play good defense. We made it too easy for them."
O'Brien often said his focus was entirely on the next game, but Vogel didn't mind looking ahead or making bold predictions.
"When we get in the playoffs, in that final week or two of the season, all the one seeds, Boston, Miami, or Orlando -- they're not going to want to play this basketball team," he said.
NOTES: Indiana G Brandon Rush missed his fifth straight game with a sprained
right ankle. ... The Pacers shot 56 percent in the first quarter to
lead 32-25 at the end of the period. ... McMillan was issued a
technical foul early in the second quarter. Portland G Andre Miller was
issued a flagrant foul with 5:35 remaining. ... Portland's Dante
Cunningham committed three fouls in his first seven minutes.
Updated February 4, 2011