If this whole coaching thing doesn’t work out, Frank Vogel probably has future in fight promotion.
His hair will never rival that of Don King’s Frankenstein fro, but the Pacers’ coach certainly has a natural gift for monstrous chatter.
Vogel isn’t going into his team’s playoff series against the Heat $15,000 in hole this time, but his mouth still appears to be running up a deficit when it comes to talking about the defending NBA champions. In other words, it’s never a smart idea to give LeBron James extra motivation.
After defeating the Knicks on Saturday, Vogel dismissed the Heat as a just another team when asked about the Pacers’ upcoming series against Miami in the Eastern Conference finals.
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“They’re the next team that’s in our way, and that’s how we’re approaching it,” Vogel said.
For James, the comment was a head-scratcher. After all, the Heat defeated the Pacers in the 2012 playoffs, and this season the Heat has had a 27-game winning streak, finished the regular season with 66 victories and has only lost one game during the playoffs.
“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.”
More often than not, players learn about the daily musings from around the league during interview sessions with reporters. That wasn’t the case Sunday, the Heat’s first day of preparation for the Pacers. James was the disseminator of news when one reporter asked what Vogel had said.
“He said we’re just another team in their way,” James said. “We’re not just another team. We’re a great team. We’re very confident. We’ll be ready for them.
“But if we’re just another team, you really don’t prepare for just another team. We’re not just another team. You got to be prepared for us.”
Last season, Vogel began preparing earlier for the Heat by priming the league’s officials for a physical series. Before the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals, Vogel called the Heat “the biggest flopping team in the NBA” and was then fined $15,000 for his gamesmanship.
Not to be one-upped, Spoelstra had his own comments for officials before the Heat clinched the series in Game 6.
“The league does not have a problem with hard fouls on our two main guys,” Spoelstra said. “In nine games now there’s been over a dozen hard fouls to the face, some of the tomahawk variety, some have drawn blood. They don’t have a problem with it, so we don’t have a problem with it. We’ll focus on what we can control.”
Spoelstra was fined $25,000 for his comments, which weren’t exactly unwarranted. Pacers reserve Tyler Hansbrough raked his hands across Dwyane Wade’s face during the 2012 series between the teams. There were other altercations, including a blow to Udonis Haslem’s right eye in Game 4 that required nine stitches. In Game 5, the Heat’s promotional staff printed “White Hot” stickers to fans that resembled bandages and read “UD 40.” Haslem’s nickname is U.D.
In 2012, Haslem doled out as much punishment as he received. In retaliation for the shot to Wade, Haslem was given a flagrant foul for whacking Hansbrough with his forearm.
The physical history between the teams has the Heat on edge even if its players and coach would rather downplay the upcoming series to reporters.
On Sunday, the Heat practiced on its main court to more closely simulate Wednesday’s environment for Game 1. Spoelstra put his players through a “training-camp-style practice,” which will likely be the last physical practice before the beginning of the series Wednesday.
As for the expected physical nature of the Eastern Conference finals devolving into another slugfest, Spoelstra said, “last year was last year.”
“Our three games [this season] didn’t have any of that,” Spoelstra said. “It was competitive. They drilled us the first two games. We were able to get one here. They were physical games, but they were not even near anything over the top.”