SPECIAL COVERAGE: 103rd Running of the Indianapolis 500

Pacers, Magic’s Victor Oladipo have solid opening nights

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Sothman’s NBA Notebook: Indiana Pacers bench is exactly what they were hoping it could be 

There is always room for perfection, but after a 97-87 victory over the Orlando Magic (0-1), the Indiana Pacers (1-0) shouldn’t be flying to New Orleans overnight with any disappointments setting in their heads. Tuesday night’s season-opener at Bankers Life Fieldhouse went as well as it possibly could have for the blue and gold, and in front of a sold-out crowd, the Pacers have seemed to have left off right where the 2013 season ended. The Pacers are tough, they are physical, and even though played against a Orlando team that is hobbled by key-injuries, they showed that defensively they will have the potential to be among the best in the Association.

That’s not saying that Tuesday night was perfect, but as I mentioned above, there is always room for perfection. The starters set the tone early for Indiana, building a 12-0 in the first 3:20 of the game that was practically built off second-chance opportunities from Roy Hibbert rebounds (12 total in the first quarter) and the demanding defense of Paul George and David West. But once the first-five took a seat on the pine, the Orlando Magic came storming back and ultimately took a halftime lead by the score of 44-40. For a brief period of time, it seemed as if the bench that at times held back the 2012-13 Pacers had returned to form, even if it was a group of new faces in Luis Scola, CJ Watson, and Solomon Hill charging up the court. Entering the half, the Pacers’ reserves had a combined three rebounds and five total points.

In the second half however, the Pacers squad that Central Indiana had been hoping to see the entire offseason made it’s way onto the court. Indiana once again started things off on a great run, outscoring Orlando 15-5 to start the half, and building a 55-49 lead that seemed to put the crowd at ease and in a place to erupt at anytime. As time passed the subs slowly came in, but instead of giving the lead right back to Orlando, the players off the bench helped put Indiana in great shape by holding the Magic to without a field goal for the first 3:40 of the quarter until Victor Oladipo had a basket to put Orlando down 80-67 in the fourth.

Just as important, those players coming in for the starters were able to score 21 points in the second half, with Orlando Johnson (9 points) and Luis Scola (8 points) leading the way.

“I think that can be pretty much who we are,” said forward Luis Scola, who went 4-7 from the field on the night. “I think we have to prove it, and I think we have to do it on a consistent basis every day.”

Scola, who was acquired in the offseason in a steal of a trade from the Phoenix Suns, showed in the  why the Pacers are surprised a player of his-caliber can even be one of their reserves and why he could be an upgrade over Tyler Hansbrough. The forward seems to take a thinking man’s approach to the game of basketball, moving at a more calculated and slower pace than those around him, but ultimately succeeding at what he wants to do in the end. After starting off the fourth with a jump shot, Scola found himself setting two-perfect picks that allowed Orlando Johnson to curl around for jump shots. Next Pacers basket, Scola was on the receiving end of a Lance Stephenson assist that he hit from 20-feet out. The next Pacers bucket saw Scola catching the ball at the top of the key pump-faking out two Orlando players before floating in the ball for an additional two-points. And then with 6:56 left in the fourth, Scola shot to the lower-right block, caught a pass from Lance Stephenson, pump-faked towards the basket to draw in Stephenson’s defender, and then slung the ball back out to Stephenson for a wide-open three pointer.

From the Pacers first six-baskets in the course of just over five minutes, Scola played a direct-role in five of those field goals. Two of those were for Orlando Johnson, who’s 3-4 performance from the field in 15:12 of play has to leave Head Coach Frank Vogel happy.

“Orlando in the second-half was as good as anybody on our team in the whole game,” said Johnson. “We have a saying of just go out there and play the game offensively, take what the defense gives you. Play with a good tempo and pace to your game, read the defense, and take what’s there. That’s what he was able to do in the second half, he just made strong basketball plays.”

Johnson believes what the team showed in the second half could potentially just be scratching the surface of what the team can do once the season really gets rolling.

“We have really only been together about a month-and-a-half,” said Johnson. “So I think the more we can get out there on the court, and the more we can keep getting that camaraderie, we are going to be a pretty good bench.”

Hibbert, George, and teammates owned the paint defensively

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After subbing into the game late in the first quarter, Orlando Magic rookie Victor Oladipo found himself with the opportunity to lead his first-ever professional fast break off a defensive rebound. The only thing between Oladipo and the sweet success of finishing at the hole (he had made a three-pointer just earlier before) was Pacers-defender George Hill. Oladipo, an extremely talented athlete, went up-and-away from the defender with his left-hand, ultimately flipping the ball up towards the basket. What Oladipo hadn’t planned for while making this move, was a streaking-Paul George that swatted the ball so hard, even the Indiana University fans were on their feet screaming.

One player that ultimately took notice, was none-other than George’s big man down by the basket in Roy Hibbert.

“I saw as a team we had fourteen blocks,” said the Pacers center. “I said man, where is it all coming from? You have D-West who had a couple, Ian (Mahinmi) had a couple, Paul had that major one, so I told him I had to one-up him at some point in the game for a block. So we had a little competition between ourselves. We protect the paint. That’s what we did last year, and it has to carry over to this year. We are a no-paint team, and we have to put our bodies on the line to make sure we do that.”

By the end of the game the Pacers had a franchise home record 18 blocks, with Hibbert (7), David West (5), Paul George (3), Ian Mahinmi (2), and Lance Stephenson (1) all contributing in the BS category. And though Stephenson also had a major-block on Oladipo that sent the crowd into a ruckus, perhaps the most-impressive block of the game came when Roy Hibbert went up one-on-one against forward Jason Maxiell. The forward was cutting to the basket by Jameer Nelson when Hibbert moved across the lane to play help-defense when Nelson beat his man, and though Maxiell had the clear-path and perhaps extra-step on Hibbert, number fifty-five came over and denied Maxiell’s attempted dunk from even touching the net.

Such defense is why Orlando finished 13-28 around the hoop, compared to Indiana’s 11-16.

Victor Oladipo solid in first game 

– Despite his welcome to the NBA-moment from the hands of both Paul George and Lance Stephenson, Orlando Magic rookie Victor Oladipo showed in his 22:35 why he had so much success at the University of Indiana, and why he also will have much room to learn and grow over the course of his first 82-game season.

Oladipo’s first professional field goal came on a wide-open three pointer late in the first quarter, a smart play that he took full-advantage of when his defender Paul George (perhaps one of the premier wing defenders in the NBA) left him wide-open in attempt to cut down and steal the ball from Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic. After a couple of careless turnovers from the result of carrying the ball, Oladipo played comfortably and ultimately let the game come to him. This includes a monster two-hand dunk that left the impressive crowd of Hoosiers fans (many of them showing up to cheer him on during the pregame shoot-around) rooting him, even if the fast-break was created by none-other than a Purdue Boilermaker in E’Twaun Moore.

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Oladipo also had a nice-moment in the fourth quarter when a ball bounced out to him at the top of the key, in which his defender C.J. Watson went too far out in attempt to grab the ball, allowing Oladipo to take advantage of a lane that had opened up on the left-side straight into the basket. Oladipo made the layup while getting fouled, allowing him to finish with a stat-line of 12 points on 4-11 shooting, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists. All in all, Oladipo seems to know his game is a work-in progress over the course of the long 82-game season.

“I’m learning when to be aggressive, when not too aggressive” said Oladipo. “I have to pick my spots. This was my first game. I just got here, it’s going to take time. You never know what to expect. I have to continue to play hard, I know that it doesn’t come overnight and that it’s a process and that I need to be patient. It’s frustrating because I want to be great and help my team win so much. I have to be patient.”

Quick Hits

Paul George had a stat-stuffing line of 24 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and 1 steal on the night… Roy Hibbert had nothing but high-remarks for New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, saying that he is a terrific player that the team will have to box-out and have to find a way to stop him from getting easy dunks/lobs on Wednesday night… Larry Bird’s Indiana State statue was shown off in the pavilion of Bankers Life Fieldhouse, and will be unveiled in Terre Haute on November 9th… Lance Stephenson played an incredibly efficient game for the Pacers, finishing with 19 points off of 8-12 shooting, seven rebounds, and five assists.

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