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Pacers use patchwork lineup in win on Opening Night

Brandon Curry
@B_Curry89

INDIANAPOLIS — There’s plenty of new things in the Indiana Pacers’ locker room nowadays.

Roy Hibbert noticed a few of them after the Pacers’ 103-91 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday. Next to the whiteboard that lists pregame court times for each player sits several wired baskets of post-game snacks on three shelves.

“Oh, we got new stuff,” Hibbert said as he walked toward the baskets. He was referring to the food, but his words would’ve made sense if he was talking about rookie forward Shayne Whittington, who was looking for something to eat.

Hibbert led an injury-riddled Pacers roster against the 76ers with 22 points on 6-of-8 shooting. He swatted seven Philadelphia attempts, grabbed eight boards, and got to the free-throw line 13 times (made 10). Hibbert was clearly the Pacers’ go-t0 offensive option with Paul George, David West, and George Hill all in street clothes. “We called his number a little bit more than usual,” head coach Frank Vogel said.

Newcomer Rodney Stuckey, who is also nursing an injury and was on a minutes limit on Wednesday, scored 16 points and dished out five assists in 16 minutes of play. His ability to get to the rim off the bounce and finish through contract sparked a lifeless Pacers’ offense that was having trouble passing the ball to each other. He hasn’t practiced with the team over the past 10 days due to a sore foot. Stuckey said he felt no pain in his brief stint on the floor against Philadelphia, but expects a larger role after a few more games.

Another fresh face to the team and free agent signing C.J. Miles, who added 15 points, put it simply: “Rodney Stuckey is going to put the ball in the basket.”

Donald Sloan was forced into action after spending much of last season as the team’s third-string point guard. Sloan shook off a rough first half to finish the night with 16 points, 10 boards (both career highs), and six assists in place of Hill and C.J. Watson. The double-double was the first Sloan has recorded in his four-year career.

Sloan, along with the rest of the starting lineup, ran away from the youthful 76ers in the second half after early-game jitters, as some of the Pacers said afterwards. Philadelphia finished the game by shooting 24 percent from the field in the fourth quarter (6-of-25) and 28.3 percent in the second half. They missed their final 10 shots.

“We started slow, as expected when you have new faces and guys out of the lineup,” Vogel said. “I thought that might happen.”

“We knew coming in with a lot of different faces out there [on] opening night that there would be a lot of jitters,” Sloan added. “After halftime, after looking at some film, really keying in, guys got going. Guy were playing for each other and making the extra pass.”

Vogel didn’t sugarcoat the opening night victory. He pointed out Philadelphia’s youth as their front office is stern in positioning themselves for the Draft lottery, and how the Pacers won’t see rosters like that on a nightly basis. “It’s going to be a work in progress, but we have to win games. No matter who’s on the court,” Vogel said.

Nevertheless, a win is a win and the Pacers need to collect as many as possible as West, Hill, and Watson heal. They can’t afford to dig themselves a hole in the standings with all the new faces receiving playing time. The odds of them sniffing the playoffs appear to be slim, even though they might not believe it.

“We’ll be fine,” Stuckey said. “We have a lot of guys out. It’s a good opportunity for other guys to step up. For the first month or so, that’s how it has to be.”

 

Brandon Curry is the Pacers beat writer for the Indiana Sports Report. Follow him on Twitter @B_Curry89.

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