Frank Vogel's toughest challenge yet

"I didn't think it would get as bad as it did," Vogel said. "But when we were winning at that level, I wondered if we would be able to sustain it because there's so many things that can knock you off track a little bit. Obviously that did happen."

The ability to get the most out of his players is one reason Vogel has been able to successfully grow as a coach. But the goodwill surrounding the team before the All-Star break has receded, putting him in the position where his ability to hold players accountable has come into question.

"You don't have success in this league without being able to hold players accountable," he said.

Vogel made one of the most head-scratching coaching de t cisions of his young career when he held all five of his starters out of the Pacers' game against the  Milwaukee Bucks  on Wednesday. That suggested Indiana was conceding home-court advantage throughout the playoffs in the East. Vogel was spared the embarrassment of the decision when the Pacers' reserves squeaked out a victory over the lowly Bucks to move back into the top spot after Miami lost to Memphis the same night.

"Coach has remained positive, doing his best to keep us together and focused," center Roy Hibbert said. "The goal is still the same, to be in the position to win a championship."

"Being at the top has always been the most important," Vogel said. "People are critical of having an aspiration, which I still don't understand. The way you get there is by making sure you're playing at the highest level. We haven't been playing at the highest level, which is why I wanted to do something different.

"The talent we have here, the group intelligence we have here gives me a lot of confidence we're going to have a strong finish to the season."

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