Indy must regain its identity -- fast

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ATLANTA -- The Indiana Pacers have played 85 regular-season and playoff games. They've beaten some of the best teams in the NBA on their way to securing the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

But there they were in Philips Arena on Friday afternoon throwing around words like passion, energy, heart and guts as if these were new concepts being applied for the first time. If these precepts aren't already integrated into the team's makeup at this juncture, it doesn't bode well.

That's what it's come to, though, for the Pacers on the eve of Game 4 of their first-round playoff matchup against the Atlanta Hawks.

The Hawks can drive Indiana to the brink of elimination by going up 3-1 with a home win Saturday afternoon.

"What we have to do is remain confident in who we are, what we been," Pacers forward David West said. "You learn the most about yourself in moments like this. I just don't believe in panic."

The Pacers are struggling to find an identity at this moment. Head coach Frank Vogel's answers while meeting with the media varied from being curt to talking tough to conveying frustration when asked about center Roy Hibbert and standing around on offense.

"We have to play better," Vogel said. "We have to play with more passion, more energy, more heart and more guts. That's what we have to do."

Vogel's shortness came after he lit into his team during their film session at the hotel, where he emphasized playing better in "a lot of little detailed ways."

The film didn't show a different perspective on the poor play of Hibbert.

Vogel was asked if he plans to remove Hibbert, who is shooting only 20 percent from the field over the past nine games, from the starting lineup and he responded, "find out tomorrow, find out tomorrow."

Hibbert was benched for the final 17:30 of Game 3 after scoring only four points and pulling down two rebounds.

"I don't think you can make a change at this point," West said when asked if there should be any lineup changes.

Hibbert may end up remaining in the starting lineup, but the first few minutes of the game will likely dictate how long Vogel sticks with him.

Hibbert is a significant problem, but he isn't the only problem.

The Pacers were an unselfish team early in the season. They shared the ball; nobody cared about who scored; credit was shared collectively.

Lately the offense has descended into hero ball, where one player tries to strap the team on his back and lead it to a victory. Paul George and Lance Stephenson have been guilty of that at times. That, in turn, has led to the other four players on the court standing around watching, instead of screening and moving to set each other up for easy baskets.

Vogel described their movement off the ball as being "very poor, to say the least," but the Pacers plan to rectify that problem.

"We revert sometimes," West said. "Sometimes we look at Lance and say, 'Go make a play,' and we just watch him. We've talked about that. At times during the season we were good at that, making plays for other guys. Sometimes in those moments, guys are trying to make plays for themselves. It doesn't work for us all the time."

Another round of hero ball won't work for the Pacers on Saturday.

Returning to the principles that guided the team to the best record in the NBA for the first half of the season could. But whether the Pacers will play that way in Game 86 of their season is far from a given.

"We want it," George said. "We wouldn't have put so much stress on getting the No. 1 seed and really battling hard to get in the position we're in now if we didn't want it. This is where we prove we want it right now."

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