Stephenson, George, West and Watson to all sit vs Magic
Now owners of the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, a goal first discussed in the Miami locker room after losing Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals last postseason, the Pacers (55-26) will rest four players in their regular season finale Wednesday night in Orlando.
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Starters Lance Stephenson, Paul George, and David West will all sit out. George Hill and Roy Hibbert, the fourth and fifth options in the starting lineup, will start and are expected to only play in the first half.
“They both have been struggling a little bit and I think it would benefit them to play without the others starters out there and get a few more touches,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said after Tuesday’s practice at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
In five games this month, Hibbert is averaging 5.6 points and 2.4 rebounds per game. He’s shooting just 25 percent, including an 0-for-9 mark in Sunday’s win over Oklahoma City. His shots will fall, so the key with him is with rebounding — where he can’t just put a body into the defender but must also go after the rebound.
“Everybody has to understand, Roy’s primary role with this team is to protect the rim — and he’s the best in the league at it,” said Vogel. “That’s where his focus is, first and foremost. We want to see his rebounding improve and obviously when we get some production from him on the offensive end, we’re at our best.”
With Hill, the key word is “assertive.” Over the last two games, he’s attempted three shots in 56 minutes. After their loss to Miami, where he didn’t attempt a field goal or free throw, Vogel re-watched the entire game with him one-on-one.
“George and I have had a lot of talks over the last few days and we both understand that he’s just got to be more assertive,” Vogel said. “He is at times, and he’s not at times. We’re at our best, again, when he’s trying to live in the paint and be a laser, quote-unquote, from the 3-pointer line.”
Backup point guard C.J. Watson, who’s played in three games after missing nearly a month of games due to a strained hamstring and sprained right elbow, will also sit. Nothing has flared up, according to Vogel, and it is purely a precautionary move. Watson practiced on Tuesday.
“It’s tough for me to sit out,” Stephenson said with a smile, “but I rather sit out than just play a little bit and then he sits me out the second half. I rather not be on the floor at all because I’m going to want to play once I get on the court.”
Vogel said he did not consider leaving those not playing behind to rest and focus on the playoffs, which commence this weekend against the Atlanta Hawks.
As center Andrew Bynum (sore right knee) remains out indefinitely, the Pacers will have 10 players available in Orlando.