A trio of observations from the Indiana Pacers’ 106-99 victory over the Orlando Magic on Sunday.
Damjan Rudez shines in fourth quarter
The Pacers and Magic were going back and forth on Sunday before Damjan Rudez happened. He scored 16 of his career-high 18 points in the final period, including four three-pointers. He was 6-of-8 from the field overall in the quarter and played the full 12 minutes.
Rudez’s play of late, despite the Pacers struggling to tally wins, has pushed Chris Copeland out of the rotation. Copeland’s resignation to bench has likely been due to his subpar defense. Although Rudez isn’t a world beater on the defensive end, he has solid positional awareness and to put it simply, he knows what he’s doing where Copeland doesn’t.
The two are similar players — both are considered stretch 4s in today’s NBA. Frank Vogel has been against playing “smaller” at the power forward position for the most part with the Pacers, so both have been asked to play the 3. Rudez has adapted to it well enough that Copeland’s time with the Pacers could very well be coming to an end.
“The Core” provides the rest
Although Paul George isn’t around for obvious reasons, the main holdovers from last year’s roster — George Hill, David West, and Roy Hibbert — were at their usual best on Sunday.
It was Hill’s second game back from his latest injury and he scored 17 points in just 20 minutes. He was excellent in the fourth quarter along with Rudez, including a crucial steal late in the game that led to a dunk on the other end. The play gave the Pacers a four-point lead they would never relinquish. Hill’s play out of the pick-and-roll — especially with West — is a stark difference than what the Pacers had been getting from other guards filling in for Hill. He’s the best guard on the roster right now, and you could argue it’s not even that close.
Speaking of West, he poured in a team-high 20 points on 8-of-15 shooting. He had his typical mid-range game working where multiple jumpers were falling after setting a ball screen and popping to around the top of the key. He and Hill took advantage of Orlando’s poor pick-and-roll defense.
Hibbert grabbed 13 rebounds and pitched in 11 points in 23 minutes. Hibbert and Ian Mahinmi continue to be one of the better rim-protecting starter-backup duos in the league.
Win snaps losing streak
The victory ended a seven-game losing streak for the Pacers and keeps them in the hunt for one of the final spots in the Eastern Conference playoffs. They’re 2.5 game back from the current eighth-seeded Charlotte Hornets. However, they’ll only three games better than the Los Angeles Lakers, who hold the fourth-worst record in the NBA. That’s an odd position to be in as the trade deadline looms (Feb. 19).