ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — After enduring a rough stretch over the past two months, the Indiana Pacers will enter the playoffs on a bit of a roll.
Rasual Butler and Chris Copeland each scored 19 points as the Pacers rested their key players and cruised to a 101-86 victory over the Orlando Magic in the regular-season finale for both teams.
The Pacers sat three starters — Paul George, Lance Stephenson and David West — and played George Hill and Roy Hibbert sparingly. But they got good output from their understudies in the second half to put the game out of reach.
It was the second time in two weeks Indiana won with starters on the bench. Coach Frank Vogel pulled all five starters during their victory over Milwaukee last week.
“There’s always value in winning games, but anytime you have bench guys that have a chance to get extended minutes, that’s really good for their rhythm and confidence,” Vogel said. “We’ve had pretty good health from our starters most of the season. So those bench guys haven’t had opportunities to get extended minutes like this. So the Milwaukee game was good and this game was good.”
The Eastern Conference’s top seed ended the season winning three of four to shake off a nasty late-season slump.
The victory was just Indiana’s 10th in their last 23 games. Still for a team expected to be one of the defending champion Miami Heat’s biggest impediments to a third consecutive NBA championship, it’s an encouraging boost for the postseason. The Pacers will open the playoffs against eighth-seed Atlanta.
“Through all the ups and downs, we’re still locked into the No. 1 seed so we have to tip our hat for that,” Hill said. “But it’s a new game now. It’s playoff time — 0-0. It’s the first to 16 (wins).”
The Magic trimmed what had been an 18-point, second-half deficit down to 12 in the fourth quarter before another late surge by Indiana helped secure the victory.
Indiana also knocked down 11 3-pointers, and racked up 40 points in the paint.
The Pacers didn’t look short-handed as they went back and forth with the Magic in the first half, and took a six-point halftime lead.
Evan Turner had 11 first-half points, including one of the Indiana’s six 3-pointers in the opening 24 minutes.
The Magic played 11 players in the half, with nine of them scoring. Orlando struggled from the field, though, shooting just 37 percent.
Maurice Harkless led the Magic with 14 points, and E’Twaun Moore added 13 for an Orlando team that ended the season losing 16 of 20 and had the fifth-worst record in franchise history.
It was not a huge surprise for a franchise looking toward future.
To help with the ongoing rebuilding process they’ll have two lottery picks in June’s NBA draft. The plan is to add more building blocks around rookie guard Victor Oladipo, and big man Nik Vucevic.
That doesn’t mean there were any happy feelings Wednesday night.
“I’m pretty sure everybody in the locker room is tired of losing and it’s something that we don’t want to do again next year,” Harkless said. “Hopefully it’s something that we can fix.”
Now that their brief rest period is done, Hill said he feels like he and his teammates are ready for the challenge that awaits them.
“It’s going to be tough, but nobody gets us without having the advantage of being at home in a seven-game series,” he said. “It’s great without any back to backs, which is really the toughest part of the season. It’s just great, now that we have some rest, our guys can prepare to go from game to game.”