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Even team with depth has lots of star power

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In light of circumstances, one could argue the Indiana Pacers are worthy of another All-Star.

They have, after all, had the NBA’s best record most of the season. They also have the league’s best home record and are its No. 1 defensive team.

Clearly, all of the above is not the work of one or two special players. It’s a body of collective work by what is arguably, or perhaps unarguably, the NBA’s deepest team.

Of Indiana’s five starters, four can make solid cases for All-Star recognition. Only two received it. But that’s OK.

What can’t be argued is that the Pacers will still be well-represented at the Feb. 16 game in New Orleans. Paul George is a starter. Roy Hibbert is a reserve. Frank Vogel and his staff are the Eastern Conference coaches.

Quibbles about Lance Stephenson and/or David West being overlooked notwithstanding, two players and an entire coaching staff isn’t a bad All-Star presence for a franchise that hasn’t had multiple representation since 2003-04. That year, Rick Carlisle coached the East, and Jermaine O’Neal and Metta World Peace (OK, Ron Artest) were players.

It’s been All-Star hit and miss ever since.

Indiana went two seasons, 2009-10 and 2010-11, with no All-Stars. Hibbert broke the streak when he was chosen as a reserve in 2011-12. George made it as a reserve last year.

Now, the Pacers are a dominant presence on the East roster.

The two-time defending NBA champion Miami Heat, with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, have two players, but they will — for a game — be under Vogel’s direction.

What follows is a quick glance at the Pacers’ participants.

Paul George

The third-leading vote-getter in fan balloting, the fourth-year swingman is the first Indiana player to start the All-Star game since O’Neal in 2004.

A two-time All-Star, he has been among the league’s top 10 scorers all season and has been mentioned as an MVP candidate.

Though mired in a shooting slump, George is a gifted player with multiple skills that he effectively harnesses within the context of the Pacers’ scheme. One of the NBA’s best defenders, he rebounds, shoots threes, dishes and is a flawless finisher at the basket.

Because of the quality of the Pacers’ starting five, George won’t put up MVP numbers. But only LeBron James and Kevin Durrant earned more All-Star votes, which speaks volumes of his MVP ability.

{span style=”text-decoration: underline;”}Roy Hibbert{/span}

He prides himself on defense, and defense is without a doubt his primary contribution to the Pacers. He is second in the NBA at blocks per game (2.44) and is, for that reason, the literal centerpiece to Indiana’s bid to dethrone Miami as East champions.

That said, Hibbert’s ancillary contributions, such as his 12.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per game averages, are welcome bonuses. He doesn’t need to score much because all five starters average double figures. And his rebounding total would be higher on a team that didn’t have ball hawks West, Stephenson and George.

But in total with his unmatched defensive qualities, Hibbert is a deserving All-Star, despite scoring and rebounding numbers that are on the light side for a 7-foot-2 center.

Always a difference-maker, he is, at times, a game-changer — which is precisely the hope against the Heat.

{span style=”text-decoration: underline;”}Frank Vogel{/span}

Think back four years ago. He was a little-known assistant on a sub-.500 team that fans tuned out and hadn’t been to the playoffs in six years.

Today, he is an elite head coach who has guided the Pacers to the postseason every year on his watch, including the sub-.500 year when he was appointed interim coach at midseason in the wake of Jim O’Brien’s firing.

In Year 1 of the Vogel era, the eighth-seeded Pacers gave the top-seeded Bulls a major scare before succumbing in a first-round series.

In Year 2, the Pacers did the same to the eventual NBA champion Heat before losing in the second round.

In Year 3, they the pushed the Heat to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals before bowing out.

In Year 4, Vogel has steered the Pacers to the league’s best record and has, by all outward appearances, primed them for a breakthrough to the East championship.

Few, if any, first-time NBA head coaches have accomplished so much, so quickly as Vogel.

He might be the Pacers’ most worthy All-Star of all.

Rick Morwick is the sports editor of the Daily Journal. Send comments to rmorwick@dailyjournal.net.

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