Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel is busy preparing his team for the Eastern Conference finals, a best-of-seven series beginning Wednesday night against the Miami Heat, the reigning NBA champions.
Before heading to Miami for Game 1, Vogel took some time after practice Monday to check in with NUVO.
NUVO: Are you aware of the buzz and excitement that you and the team have brought back to Indy?
Vogel: Yes I am. I feel it everywhere I go, every time I leave my house, going to the store or the mall or restaurants. I get a lot of compliments and thanks for turning the team around and for bringing Pacer basketball back to the forefront. You know, buzz is the right word for it. It started with the playoffs a couple years ago against the Bulls. People saw the future that we had and now all the young players have grown into their own and each of the last couple of years it just got greater and greater.
NUVO: You just defeated the New York Knicks. Can you select two key moments from the series that stand out to you?
Vogel: I think the first moment was in Game 1. We had just won the elimination game in Atlanta and we clinched that series on their home court. We knew we had an uphill battle against a New York Knicks team who were playing as well as anybody in the NBA the last six weeks of the season. We went in there with such poise and composure, in light of a hostile environment, and steal Game 1 in the series. It really was the difference of us winning that series. You have to win one game on their court, and the home team held serve the rest of the series.
Definitely in Game 6 when New York was making their final charge and really raising the level of their play ... Carmelo had 39 points and they were perfect from the free-throw line, making 13 three-pointers, five in the third quarter, and really trying to take back control of the series. Then Carmelo goes up to dunk it and Roy Hibbert comes out of nowhere and has one of the best blocks the NBA playoffs have ever seen. And from that point forward we controlled the game.
NUVO: How are you preparing for playing a team like the Heat?
Vogel: We are just preparing for all their strengths and weaknesses. I think the New York series helped us prepare for the Miami Heat. Both teams are terrific defensively at forcing turnovers and that's been a weakness of ours at certain points this year. We were able to sort of solve those issues by Game 6 in the Knicks series where we only had nine turnovers. That has really been the greatest point of emphasis, taking care of the basketball. The outcome of a turnover will be different with the Heat because if you turn the ball over it's going to be a dunk show, (laughs), so that's the biggest thing we have to do is take care of the basketball.
NUVO: Can you compare the preparation for a player like Michael Jordan in the playoffs versus what you are doing now getting ready for LeBron James?
Vogel: LeBron is more of a facilitator. He's a pass-first guy that finds a way to play highly efficient and can score in bunches as well. Michael was just a dominate, pure scorer. We had the idea that a team can beat any "big three." The Heat are playing as a team and LeBron has a lot to do with that. They're not just the big three. They play a team brand of basketball and that''s a big reason for their success.
NUVO: When your team is showing signs of slacking or poor play is there a go-to message you deliver to them?
Vogel: We always rely on our togetherness. Things are going to be going good at times and bad at times throughout the course of the game or season. We just have to make sure we always strive for our togetherness. We feel like togetherness is something that you achieve, not something that you put together with contracts in the summertime. It's something that everybody has to work for. How do you play for each other? How do you respect your teammates in the locker room? That's just always the message. When any situation comes up where we're struggling, we just have to make sure we stay together and play harder than the other team.
NUVO: Do you get much sleep during the playoffs?
Vogel: (Laughs) I don''t really get enough sleep, probably. I do make sure I try to manage it the best I can because you have to have a sharp mind to coach this game, especially at this level. As much as you're tempted to continue to grind, it is important to get your rest and make sure you are mentally sharp as well.
NUVO: How is the chess match between coaches different in the playoffs?
Vogel: The playoffs are more of a chess match because you're playing the same team over and over again. There are less moving parts than the regular season. In the playoffs, it's the same weapons one game they will have the next game, so you have to analyze and anticipate the moves they're gonna make while at the same time evaluating what moves you have to make.
NUVO: Which coach has been the most influential to your coaching style?
Vogel: The guys I worked for, Jim O'Brien and Rick Pitino, had a great influence on me. From the standpoint of studying the NBA game I was always a big fan of Phil Jackson and his approach. Obviously he had great players, but there were a lot of coaches with great players that didn't win at the level he did. That was a big reason why I hired [Pacers associate head coach] Brian Shaw. He was as close to Phil as anyone could be and I thought I could rely on that experience and it's been awesome.
NUVO: Indy 500 ... ever been?
Vogel: I have not. I say I'm going to go every year and something always comes up that I don't end up going, but I do plan on going one day.
NUVO: Favorite driver?
Vogel: Ed Carpenter, being a local hero, is someone that I like to see do well.
NUVO: What are some of your favorite things?
Vogel: I'm big on the backyard barbecue and entertaining neighbors. Letting all the kids run around in backyards in our neighborhood in Carmel. I'm a pizza-holic, it''s my favorite food. Just cheese and pepperoni, I like to keep it simple.
NUVO: What music are you into? Any songs you listen to in the car on your way in before a big game to help motivate you?
Vogel: Songs that motivate me ... well, I've always been a fan of the song, "I Got a Feeling" by the Black Eyed Peas, but not in the car though. There really is not music I listen to before a game to get pumped up. I'm kind of a mainstream guy. I listen to the Smiley show in the morning, and I like the kind of music they play.
NUVO: Name three famous people you would like to sit down and have dinner with.
Vogel: Phil Jackson, obviously a coaching icon. Jerry Seinfeld is an incredible legend from a comedy stand point and I'm a huge fan of that show, and Tom Hanks is one of my favorite actors ... and President Obama, add him too.
Mark Dubec's career includes stops in California and Indiana working as a TV host, film critic, and entertainment reporter. Check him out on Twitter @markdubec and at markdubec.com.