AL HAMNIK: Larry Bird wants his Pacers to be more like Bulls

2014-03-15T17:15:00Z 2014-05-05T21:30:08Z AL HAMNIK: Larry Bird wants his Pacers to be more like BullsAl Hamnik Times Columnist nwitimes.com
March 15, 2014 5:15 pm  • 

It's hard to find fault with the Indiana Pacers' 48-17 record as of Saturday, which includes a league-best 30-4 at home.

That would be like saying Wrigley Field needs more ivy or Jimmy Fallon laughs too much.

But there was an agonizing stretch earlier this month when Pacers' fans and coach Frank Vogel were stunned, and team president Larry Bird was fuming.

Indiana's four-game losing streak against Golden State, Charlotte, Houston and Dallas was as embarrassing as it was unexpected.

Three were blowouts — Charlotte by 22 points, Houston 26 and Dallas by 11 — something you'd never expect from the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed.

The Pacers held private team meetings to clear the air, fans grumbled and local media removed its "invincible" sign from the team logo.

Had player fatigue set in? Maybe, but everyone is tired, dinged up and emotionally spent. The NBA's 82-game season is no sunny stroll on the beach.

The key at this point is good health.

"I think the guys have got to be more consistent as far as moving the basketball, not dribbling too much," Bird said. "But they're good guys who care about each other, who care about winning."

Prior to the All-Star break, popular consensus had the Pacers and Oklahoma City meeting in the NBA Finals.

"I don't get involved in that. I don't go down there and speak to 'em every day," Bird said. "They've had success in the regular season and some success in the playoffs the last couple of years. They know what it takes.

"Last year, we went to the Eastern Conference Finals, Game 7, and we feel we're better. The bench is better, so hopefully we can move on to the next level."

As for fatigue, the Hall of Famer doesn't buy it.

"The Bulls bring it every night," Bird noted. "Here, the last couple of months, all I hear people writing about us is, 'Well, they're tired. They're fatigued. Oh, they gotta play a back to back.' Back to back games have been going in this league for at least 60 years.

"Sometimes, they play three games in a row. But we're using that too much as an excuse, whereas Chicago don't use excuses. They're playing full-steam ahead. Some nights they get beat but it's not for lack of effort."

The Bulls play at Indiana on March 21, then welcome the Pacers to the United Center March 24. I shouldn't say 'welcome' because they don't like each other, or the Miami Heat.

And the feeling is mutual on South Beach.

As the regular season winds down, this is no time for pep talks or sucking air.

"Our guys tend to hear about how tired they are all the time," Bird said. "I don't buy it. Never bought it. Yeah, you're gonna get tired but this is the business.

"You gotta play."

The Bulls, without the depth of Indiana and Miami, stick with seven or eight players most nights and take great pride in their spirit and toughness.

"They're gamers," Bird is quick to add. "That's what I call a gamer — guys ready to play at any time."

Don't know about you, but the NBA playoffs, like true spring weather, can't get here quick enough for me.

THis column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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