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Pacers have high hopes after return to playoffs

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP)

High expectations have returned to Indiana.

Coach Frank Vogel could barely contain his excitement after running his first practice since getting his interim tag removed over the summer. The Pacers made the playoffs last season, and Pacers president Larry Bird says he wants to add pieces to a solid young core that features Danny Granger, Darren Collison, Roy Hibbert, Paul George, George Hill and Tyler Hansbrough.

With plenty of money to spend in free agency, Indiana could be on the verge of a breakthrough.

''There's a buzz,'' Vogel said. ''These guys have a buzz about them. They know this could be a big year for the Pacers and they're excited to be back. They know what we accomplished last year, and it was good, but not good enough.''

What looked like just a bunch of guys playing a pickup game on Friday was so much more.

''The end portion of practice, about 15 to 20 minutes, I wanted to intentionally not stop it,'' he said. ''I wanted them going up and down, and I wanted them to push their wind and challenge their conditioning.''

Hansbrough said the transition from working out away from the team for months to preparing for games in two weeks will be challenging.

''We're still trying to catch our stride a little bit,'' he said. ''It's kind of like cramming for a test. But it looks like everybody's been working out, they're in good shape, and hopefully, we can get into game shape and get rolling.''

Hill, an Indianapolis native the Pacers picked up in a draft-day trade with the San Antonio Spurs, liked what he saw during the practice session.

''An edge to everybody,'' he said. ''A chip on people's shoulders. It was great that we went to the playoffs, but none of the guys are excited about that. They want to do better. They want to bring basketball back to the Indiana Pacers like it's always been my whole life.''

Granger knows his teammates could be different tomorrow.

''We don't know what free agents we're going to add,'' he said. ''There could be trades. All this could happen before Christmas, so it's kind of up in the air.''

Several players took advantage of the extended offseason. Hibbert got stronger without losing mobility, Granger put on five pounds of muscle he hopes to keep, George added eight pounds and Hansbrough is fully healthy for the first time in years. Vogel believes that his team's mix of youth and experience will be an advantage.

''I really think that the young teams and the really old teams are the ones that are going to be hurt the most by this lockout,'' he said. ''The teams that are entering our prime, like us, that have a core group back, are the ones that are going to be able to take this lockout situation and make it a tremendous opportunity for us to take that big step that we're hoping to take.''

Granger is just glad to know there will be a season.

''It seemed like we wouldn't have a season a lot of times,'' Granger said. ''Thankfully, the owners and the players came to some accord and we have a season, so that's really a blessing for everybody.''

--

Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/cliffbruntap

Tagged: Pacers, Danny Granger, George Hill, Tyler Hansbrough, Paul George

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