Pacers coach Frank Vogel, wanting to set the record straight about recent comments he made pertaining to the Heat, went on two South Florida radio stations on Monday to clear the air.
The Heat and Pacers begin the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday at AmericanAirlines Arena, and Vogel created a buzz in Miami a few days before the series by referring to the Heat as “the next team that’s in our way.”
This time of year, even seemingly benign comments become sensational story lines, whether it’s deserved or not, and Vogel’s words, given the recent playoff history between the Heat and Pacers, elicited a strong response from Heat star (and reigning MVP) LeBron James.
Miami-based reporters, paraphrasing Vogel after the Heat’s practice, asked James what he thought of Indiana’s coach referring to the Heat as “just another team.”
“We’re not just another team,” James said. “I don’t understand what he’s saying. But we’re not just another team. It’s not true.”
Turns out, there’s a big difference — huge, even — between “just another team” and “the next team that’s in our way.”
Vogel heard James’ comments on ESPN’s Sports Center and issued a statement through the Pacers’ website:
“Sorry sports world, the words ‘just another team’ never came out of my mouth. Great respect for LBJ and the champs. Looking forward to [a] great series.”
Vogel then made the rounds on South Florida radio stations WQAM and 790 The Ticket to address the issue further.
“There’s no lack of respect there, and I think it was just a quote taken out of context,” Vogel said told WQAM.
Said Vogel to 790 The Ticket: “They’re the defending champs, and they’re better this year than they were last year. No, they’re not just another team.”
Among the more interesting things that came out of the radio interviews, Vogel said his team has matured defensively since last year’s Eastern Conference semifinals.
“I think our players got in foul trouble and lacked discipline to play the game without fouling,” Vogel said of his team’s 2012 playoff series against the Heat. “There were a couple games — Games 1 and 4 — where we had keys guys on the bench at key times … and I think it was costly in those two losses.”
Battling the bigs
In Game 1 of the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals, Pacers center Roy Hibbert, forward David West and guard George Hill each picked up two fouls in the first quarter.
Foul trouble limited Hibbert’s effectiveness on defense throughout the series.
Although plenty has changed about the matchup between the Heat and Pacers from 2012 to this week, the core differences between the two teams remain the same. The Pacers feature a bigger lineup than the Heat, which relies on quickness and offensive mismatches.
“That’s our game and that’s where the contrasting styles come in,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You have arguably the best rim protector [Hibbert] and one of the better defenses in the league that protects the paint and we have an identity where we attack the paint. Who’s going to get to whom?”
The Heat’s playoff marketing slogan “White Hot” might have met its match this round.
The Pacers’ playoff slogan “Blue Collar; Gold Swagger” is a nod to the team’s rugged approach to defense and the confident personalities of its coach and players.
James said Monday: “Every team wants to play physical with us. We always accept that challenge.”
James was asked how he developed the restraint to not respond to especially hard fouls or over-the-top physicality by opponents.
Such tactics against him “started when I was in sixth, seventh grade,” he said. “I was a lot faster, taller than a lot of kids. It took a while, honestly. It’s maturity. Leadership. I can’t afford to get out of my game and get unfocused if the play becomes more than basketball.” It’s difficult at times, for sure. There are times I want to retaliate but I can’t. Football has given me an advantage. I’ve been around physical play.”