MILWAUKEE (AP) — The slumping Indiana Pacers rested their starters during a 104-102 victory at Milwaukee, and improved their playoff positioning.
Coach Frank Vogel told reporters at the Pacers’ shootaround that none of his top five had taken part and they would all sit out the game. He said it was a chance for Paul George, David West, Roy Hibbert, George Hill and Lance Stephenson to get some minor injuries healed, and for his reserves to play extended minutes.
“We’re going out to try to win this basketball game,” Vogel said. “We still have our sights on the No. 1 seed, but the most important thing for our team is fixing our team and this is the plan to try to do that.”
The Pacers backed up their coach’s words, with Chris Copeland making a driving layup with 1.2 seconds remaining to lift Indiana to the win. Coupled with Miami’s 107-102 loss at Memphis, the Pacers moved back into first place in the Eastern Conference by a half-game over the Heat.
Indiana was stumbling to the finish after leading the East most of the season. The Pacers had lost five of their last six games and Vogel said he thought they looked tired after a 107-88 home loss to Atlanta on Sunday, when Indiana was held to a franchise-low 23 points in the first half.
The Pacers visit the Heat on Friday.
“I’m willing to accept that if a move like this leads us to a No. 2 seed, that’s OK,” Vogel said before the win at Milwaukee.
Vogel said he ran the decision by the NBA league office, which he said found no problem with the move. However, Vogel said he’s unaware of an NBA team ever benching all of its normal starters for a game.
Vogel said the starters would return to practice Thursday and play at Miami, and some bench guys could rest that night.
“The thought process behind all five guys is if you sit one or two guys per game, then nobody ever finds a rhythm,” Vogel said.
Indiana has prioritized the top seed all season, so it would have home-court advantage against Miami if the teams meet again in the Eastern Conference finals. But with his team struggling offensively, Vogel decided on the rest plan against the NBA-worst Bucks.
“We’re not playing well as a basketball team right now,” he said. “Our starters aren’t playing well, our bench is not playing well. We want to try to get the starters on track by getting their legs back under them and getting them healed up and we want to get the bench back on track by giving them extended minutes in tonight’s game.”
Milwaukee coach Larry Drew said neither he nor his players felt they were being disrespected by the decision.
“They are just making sure they don’t limp into the playoffs. That’s the last thing any team would want to do,” Drew said.
“Our focus these last five games is to be competitive, regardless of who we play against and who they play. That message would be no different if they were playing their starters.”