The Herald Bulletin

April 11, 2014

Leonard still believes in the Pacers

By Rick Teverbaugh
The Herald Bulletin

---- — ANDERSON — For the past 36 hours, the NBA universe has been buzzing about the decision made by Indiana Pacers' coach Frank Vogel to rest all of his starting five Wednesday in Milwaukee.

On Thursday, long-time Indiana coach and broadcaster Bobby Leonard was at Hoosier Park to do a meet and greet with fans. He had a historical perspective on Vogel's decision.

"When I was coaching (the Pacers in the ABA) we had a big lead in the East," said Leonard. "I think we were about 16 games ahead. So I rested half my starters in one game and then the other half in the next."

So he agrees with the decision?

"I think it was a good move," said Leonard. "I think was something (team president) Larry (Bird) wanted as well. It was a great win. I was so happy for (Chris) Copeland that he made that (game-winning) shot."

The move turned out to be successful beyond resting the starters and getting the win. Miami also lost to Memphis on Wednesday, moving Indiana a half-game ahead of the Heat for the top seed in the East. The Heat and Pacers play tonight in Miami.

But what if the move had resulted in a loss and the Heat would have won? Leonard had a history lesson up his sleeve for that possibility as well.

"We (Pacers) won (the deciding game in) three ABA championships on the road," said Leonard. "We won the first one in Los Angeles, the second in New York and the third in Kentucky. I never thought that in the playoffs, the home court was that big a deal. If you can't win on the road, you're not very good."

Yet tonight's game in Miami may really have ramifications beyond which team finishes with the best record.

"I think we need to win in Miami to a degree because we have to feel like we can beat them there," said Leonard.

Even though he acknowledges that Indiana and Miami will both have to worry about getting to an Eastern Conference championship series, he has obviously given some serious thought to how such a series might play out.

"Miami has really been resting Dwayne Wade a lot," he said. "Miami can't win an NBA championship without Wade. They need LeBron (James), (Chris) Bosh and Wade all three to win it."

While that focused on three of the Miami starters, some of Leonard's observations about the Pacers aren't so much about the starting five.

"C.J. Watson is a factor," he said of the Pacers' backup guard. "There's no question the Pacers missed him. Without him, we're using the third-string point guard. I was glad to see him come back and play (Wednesday). Now he will be able to get a few games under his belt."

Beyond tonight, the Pacers have two more games left. The first will be Sunday at home against Oklahoma City and the season finale Wednesday at Orlando.

Also, beyond the upcoming NBA playoffs, Leonard will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame this fall. But that honor wasn't really one that he worried about very much.

"I didn't really give it very much thought," said Leonard. "I'm in the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. I'm a Hoosier so that's enough for me. But it is nice for my family. It is a legacy for the grandkids."