AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Roy Hibbert's disappearing act is wearing thin in Indianapolis.
Pacers fans are so angry, they want him benched or traded. Critics have made Hibbert the target of jokes. Teammates are desperately trying to coax their All-Star center out of his funk, and even ultra-positive coach Frank Vogel knows it's time for Hibbert to start playing big.
The Pacers need it now, in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, more than ever.
"We tell Roy all the time how much we're going to need him in this series and this playoff run," Paul George said Tuesday. "You know it's up to Roy to just come through and deliver for us."
Lately, the 7-foot-2, 290-pound veteran hasn't been able to do much.
In the seven-game series against Atlanta, Hibbert averaged 5.3 points and 3.7 rebounds and shot just 37.2 percent from the field. His minutes dwindled from 30 in Game 1 to 12½ in Game 6. The runner-up for the league's defensive player of the year award didn't even have a block until Game 4. And for the first time in his playoff career, he finished Game 6 with no points and no rebounds.
Somehow, the Pacers still managed to tie the series, and in Game 7, the old Hibbert returned with 13 points, seven rebounds and five blocks as the Pacers beat Atlanta 92-80. That performance brought back the cheers and rekindled hope that Hibbert had finally exorcised his demons.
Monday night's poor performance against Washington showed everyone that Game 7 was merely an anomaly.
Again, Hibbert got into early foul trouble against the Wizards, missed his only two shots, and got pushed around by the smaller Marcin Gortat. He finished with no points and no rebounds in a 102-96 Game 1 loss and afterward was pulled aside by some of his teammates. On Tuesday, Hibbert promised to be more effective Wednesday night.
"I'll just try to be a little more aggressive on both ends and just not be content with letting their guards and forwards get defensive rebounds," Hibbert said. "I've got to do a good job putting a body on Nene and Gortat, so I'm just going to go out there and pursue."
Nobody, including Hibbert, has been able to pinpoint the problem, though it's not the first time he has endured something like this.
After Indiana matched Portland's four-year, $58 million offer in the summer of 2012, Hibbert had an abysmal first half of the season. As the struggles wore on, Pacers fans increasingly questioned whether the team made the right move. Some even linked the big contract to Hibbert's struggles, suggesting Indiana's biggest player cared more about getting his money than winning a title.
The truth was Hibbert cared too much about living up to the price tag and eventually got caught thinking too much on the court rather than just reacting to the game.
Now it seems to be happening all over again.
"Roy's just got to clear his mind, demand the ball in the paint and get the ball where he wants it in the paint," George said. "You know when he gets to where he's able to be a threat and he's able to make a move without putting the ball on the ground, it's going in almost every time."
Of course, the Wizards figured out how to prevent that in Game 1.
Gortat finished with 12 points and 15 rebounds on a night the Wizards held a commanding 53-36 advantage on the glass and a 19-5 edge in second-chance points.
"We try to make sure none of their bigs are going to catch the ball in the paint easily, try to make their life a little bit harder and miserable," Gortat said.
Hibbert's job is to find a way to change that, and teammates and coaches are convinced he will.
"I think mentally he wants to do more," Vogel said. "He's giving maximum effort, and he's going to continue to study (film) to see how he can be more productive.
"If Roy Hibbert is on the court," Vogel added, "it's because I think he can help us win the next possession in that stretch of that game and help us win that game."
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