AL HAMNIK: Pacers should soon have Bulls in rearview mirror

2012-12-08T17:00:00Z 2012-12-11T09:06:45Z AL HAMNIK: Pacers should soon have Bulls in rearview mirrorAl Hamnik Times Columnist nwitimes.com
December 08, 2012 5:00 pm  • 

The Bulls are in trouble and not because of The Derrick Rose Waiting Game.

If only it were that simple.

The Pacers, also waiting for their superstar Danny Granger to return from injury, are about to wrestle Central Division dominance away from Chicago with a much better product.

Indiana is younger, bigger, more physical and plays better defense than the Bulls. All that's lacking is Granger's return and some consistency from Paul George, who's been on fire lately.

Nobody knows when, if at all, Rose will return. Ownership may choose to deliberately wait until early in the playoffs, fearing coach Tom Thibodeau might push his franchise player too hard once he's cleared by doctors.

Thibodeau has the reputation of running his stars into the ground. The Pacers won't complain. They see the Central as an eventual two-horse race with Chicago while Milwaukee does its annual fade and Detroit and Cleveland eat everyone's dust.

"We're on the way to building the positive chemistry that carried us through the second half of last year," coach Frank Vogel said.

"There's a good vibe in the locker room. Guys are feeling good about their roles and how they're fitting in with each other."

Vogel is an interesting character, part nerd, part Rockne, but always interesting. A good quote, as we in the business like to say.

He's paid his dues, serving as a scout for the Lakers and Wizards, then as an assistant for the 76ers and Celtics before Larry Bird hired him at Indiana.

Raised in New Jersey, Vogel first gained national attention as an eighth-grader when he appeared on the David Letterman Show, during a Stupid Human Tricks segment.

Vogel's stunt included spinning a basketball on a toothbrush while brushing his teeth.

The nerdiness continued after playing three years of Division III basketball at Juniata College in Huntington, Pa., then transferring to the University of Kentucky to become a student manager.

Now 39, Frank Vogel has proven he can coach in the NBA. He's basketball smart, feisty, and his players all seem to love him, knowing that despite a sense of humor, he is a cold-blooded taskmaster as well.

I repeat: The Bulls are in trouble. Until Derrick Rose is back in uniform, they must nurse every late lead because they have no closer.

"Our team will have a closer by committee all season. Several guys can do it," Vogel tells us.

There's George Hill, David West, Lance Stephenson, 7-foot-2 Roy Hibbert, Tyler Hansbrough, Gerald Green, 6-11 Ian Mahinmi, George, and Granger once he's healthy.

"Statistically, we're building the best defense in the league with the potential to become THE best defense in the league," Vogel said.

Hibbert is the cornerstone of that endeavor.

He leads the NBA in blocked shots with three a game, some of which are still airborne.

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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