Patchwork Pacers finally Heat up

— -- MIAMI -- Having endured a rash of injuries that has ravaged the Indiana Pacers lineup just a couple of weeks into the season, coach Frank Vogel has adjusted his approach and opted for efficiency.

The absences have grown to such an extent that when Vogel is asked before games for the latest updates to his injury report, he names the players who are available instead of the ones sitting out.

It simply takes less time, and that was especially the case Wednesday night.

"Sloan, Hill, Copeland, Scola, Hibbert, Price, Rudez, Lavoy Allen, Ian Mahinmi and Shane Whittington," Vogel said as he rattled off names that won't necessarily have anyone rushing to update the rosters of their fantasy teams. "Life throws a screwball at you sometimes. You just have to hit it."

Through a combination of blood, luck, fearlessness, dominant rebounding and the benefit of a couple of league-granted injury exemptions, the Pacers collectively connected on their biggest hit of the season in Wednesday's 81-75 muckfest of a victory against the Miami Heat.

This was a rematch of teams that met in the Eastern Conference finals each of the past two seasons, but neither the Heat nor the Pacers bear much of a resemblance to their former identities. While the Heat are faced with overcoming the departure of four-time MVP LeBron James, the Pacers are desperately trying to recover from the injury depletion of four starters and two reserves.

Consider this: Indiana's players missed a combined total of 69 games to injuries all of last season, during which Vogel used just three different starting lineups. Already this season, players have combined to miss almost 50 games -- barely three weeks into the regular-season schedule.

It's gotten to the point at which Pacers center Roy Hibbert stopped keeping track of the various timeframes of when some of his more recognizable teammates will return. Instead, Hibbert kept his head down, his feet in the paint and his hands on seemingly every rebound that was available to help lead the Pacers to their third win of the season, second in a row and first on the road.

Hibbert, one of only two currently available Pacers who were in the primary rotation last season, sat at his locker late Wednesday with his knees wrapped in ice. Blood seeped from a cut on his left arm as he raised it into the air to describe how his third block of the game punctuated a defensive effort that limited the Heat to just one made shot in the final 4½ minutes of the game.

There haven't been too many feel-good moments for Indiana since the end of last season.

But this was one.

"We haven't been healthy for a while, so I don't really look at who is playing or not," said Hibbert, who had 16 points and 15 rebounds but also held the Heat's Chris Bosh to a season-low nine points on 3-of-13 shooting. "Whoever is out there, we are going to ride together."

Hibbert rode with Chris Copeland, who drove for the go-ahead layup with 52.2 seconds left and scored a team-high 17 points at the small forward position that belongs to All-Star and catalyst Paul George. But George is likely out for the season after breaking his leg in August during a Team USA scrimmage.

Hibbert is forced to ride with Donald Sloan, whose huge 3-pointer late in the fourth quarter and two free throws in the final seconds assured the Pacers wouldn't let another fight to the finish end in defeat. Sloan, under normal circumstances, would be the backup to Indiana's backup point guard.

But with starter George Hill expected to be out until December with a knee bruise and primary backup C.J. Watson likely sidelined another two weeks with a foot injury, Sloan has gone from summer-league sensation to starter and has been fearless every step of the way.

The Heat led 26-24 after the first quarter and were outscored in each of the final three. Indiana won despite shooting just 37.5 percent from the field and committing 16 turnovers. In other words, the Pacers dominated with defense. They did it in what they like to call "the Pacer Way."

Pound, pummel and hang around until they wear you down. That is the preferred plan for the Pacers, who are now two wins removed from a six-game losing streak that included five games that were close in the final minute.

"No offense to them, but I haven't seen them score that many points in the first quarter all season," said Bosh, whose streak of 20-point games to open the season ended with a sluggish performance capped by an air ball he shot from 3-point range late in the game. "We allowed them to really get a rhythm, get going. And, yeah, now when it's crunch time, Sloan makes a pull-up 3. Was it a good shot? I have no idea. But it went in. And we thought we played good defense. But by that time ... they made it tough."

Indiana made it tough by making every loose ball a priority, which led to a devastating 53-28 edge in rebounding and 19 second-chance points. Shooting guard Solomon Hill rode right alongside Hibbert through this department by collecting 10 rebounds, three more than any Heat player grabbed.

Hill was the guy filling in for fill-in starting guard C.J. Miles, who took one more night off as a precaution while he recovers from recurring migraines. And Miles was being counted on to step in for Rodney Stuckey, who was signed in the offseason to replace Lance Stephenson but has been out with a sore left foot.

The names were different, but the proud and plodding pace was familiar.

"You are going to get what you get from the Pacers," said Heat guard Dwyane Wade, who scored 11 of his game-high 20 in the first quarter but was slowed early by a tight hamstring. "It is a typical Eastern Conference type of game -- slow, ragged and low-scoring. They dogged us. It is as simple as that."

Eventually, the reinforcements will arrive for Hibbert and the Pacers. Power forward David West may be cleared for practice as soon as next week after sitting out since the preseason with a sprained ankle. For now, they hope to ride out the turbulent start with a confidence-boosting win here and there.

The Pacers' challenge is to sprinkle in doses of progress to break up the steady flow of pain.

"We're a different team right now than we are going to be months from now but obviously very different from where we were last year," Vogel said. "Guys who are getting to play extended minutes right now -- they don't usually get that opportunity. The silver lining in all of this is when we get healthy. Then, those guys return to being role players. ... Hopefully, we are going to be a stronger team."