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NBA PM: Pacers Boost Bench for Title Run
Posted By Alex Kennedy On October 18, 2013 @ 5:00 pm In NBA | No Comments
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Pacers Improve Bench For Title Run
The Indiana Pacers were an elite team last season, coming within one game of reaching the NBA Finals. However, they had one obvious weakness that held them back throughout the year – their below-average bench. Indiana’s starters played big minutes because there was a significant drop off when their second unit came in the game.
In their place is a much-improved second unit that consists of C.J. Watson, Luis Scola, Chris Copeland and Lance Stephenson (who has moved to the bench since Danny Granger returned to the starting lineup). What was a weakness last year has seemingly turned into a strength, with Indiana looking like one of the deepest teams in the NBA.
“I think we have one of the best benches in the league on paper,” Watson said in a phone interview. “We still have to play together and jell with one another and all of that, but I think we definitely have one of the best benches on paper. As long as we all go out there and know our role and do what we need to do to help the team and help each other succeed then I think we’ll be fine.
“I’m very excited and I can’t wait to start the season. I’m looking forward to getting the know the guys better and playing with them more. I really didn’t know any of the guys before I got here, except for just playing against them. I’m just ready to get the season start. I know Coach [Frank Vogel] is ready to get started; every time I talk to him he’s excited.”
Last season, Watson played for the Brooklyn Nets and faced off against Indiana three times. The point guard admits that the scouting report on last year’s Pacers was that their bench was a major weakness.
“They really didn’t have a good bench, so most of the starters got a lot of minutes; we knew that coming in,” Watson said of facing the Pacers last season. “But most of all, they were really physical and played really hard. They would get into you and they were a grind-it-out kind of team.”
When Watson was weighing his free agency options this summer, he didn’t have to wait long to sign a new contract. Once the Pacers contacted him on the first day of free agency, clearly making him a priority, he was on board.
“They contacted my agent really early in the process and they wanted to get everything done on the first day,” Watson said. “That’s why it all happened so early and so quick.
“I wanted to play for a contender and I wanted to go to a team where I could get playing time. Also, I felt like I could help this team. They were a very good team already, they’re very young and getting better each and every year, but I felt I could help. I just want to come off the bench and score and defend and change the tempo whenever they need me to and also be a leader.”
Watson is confident that he made the right decision during free agency, and he’s ecstatic that he gets to play for one of the best teams in the league.
Scola, who was acquired in a trade with the Phoenix Suns, may be Indiana’s best bench player and he’ll certainly provide solid minutes with the second unit. He’s a starting-caliber player, who has averaged double figures in every season of his six-year NBA career. Last season with the Suns, he put up 13.2 points per game as a starter. He finished the year strong, averaging 16.1 points and 10 rebounds in the final month of the season.
While the 33-year-old was happy to play the role of mentor in Phoenix and help the young Suns develop, he’s thrilled to be on a contender at this point in his career. He has only been to the playoffs twice (his first two seasons in the league) and he can’t wait to get back. Scola gives the Pacers another skilled big man who can score down low and give opponents problems under the basket.
If the Pacers’ gradual year-by-year improvement continues, they should be Finals-bound this season. That’s the next step for Indiana, considering they have advanced deeper and deeper in the postseason in each of the last three years. They gave the Miami HEAT a tough seven-game series in the Eastern Conference Finals last year, but ultimately came up short. Now, it’s championship or bust in Indiana.
“Hopefully we can be the best team and win the championship,” Watson said. “That’s the goal right now. … The attitude is championship or bust, especially after how far they got last year.”
Having a vastly-improved, above-average bench will certainly help them in their quest for a title.
Billups Looks Good for Pistons
The Detroit Pistons have been very cautious with Chauncey Billups throughout the preseason, resting the point guard in three of their first four games. This is understandable, considering Billups is 37 years old and missed all but 22 games last season for the Los Angeles Clippers due to a variety of injures.
However, with Rodney Stuckey out after undergoing surgery on his fractured right thumb and Brandon Jennings sidelined due to an impacted wisdom tooth and hairline fracture of his jawbone, the Pistons needed Billups to start and play big minutes for the first time this preseason when they faced the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday night.
Billups performed well for Detroit, finishing the game with 10 points, four assists and a steal in just under 28 minutes. Billups was 3-for-9 from the field and 2-for-5 from three-point range, but his shooting should improve the more he plays. After the game, the veteran point guard said he felt good playing the floor general role again.
“I wanted to get out there and get back up and down the court,” Billups said after the game. “It felt good.”
“I liked his game,” Pistons head coach Maurice Cheeks said of Billups. “With him handling the ball, on the ball, off the ball, it gives us a couple dimensions. I liked the way he played. When you’re older, the game kind of slows down for you, it slows down for all of us and he can pick a spot, get a shot, get to the rim and he kind of gives us a nice little pace.”
Billups felt that the group played well at times, but he was upset with Detroit’s 21 turnovers. He only turned the ball over twice during the game, but he made it clear that the entire team needs to do a better job protecting the ball.
“We had some really good moments in the game,” Billups said. “Obviously, we have some things to work on with turning the ball over. It’s kind of been the death of us in these preseason games, just turnovers. So, I’d like to see us just take better care of the basketball. This is a good learning experience for us.”
The fact that Billups is still able to play big minutes and contribute is impressive since this is his 17th NBA season. Consider this: Andre Drummond was just three years old when Billups was selected with the third pick in the 1997 NBA Draft.
Taylor Fighting for Cavs’ Roster Spot
With Dion Waiters, C.J. Miles and Jarrett Jack out for the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday night, head coach Mike Brown played Jermaine Taylor big minutes to see what the 26-year-old shooting guard could do. Taylor had barely played during the preseason, but Brown wanted to see if he would step up.
Relishing the opportunity, Taylor was outstanding for Cleveland. In 20 minutes off of the bench, Taylor had a team-high 15 points on 6-for-10 shooting from the field. Ten of his 15 points came in the fourth quarter, which helped the Cavs get the victory over the Detroit Pistons. Taylor also had three assists and a steal. Taylor was getting out in transition every chance he could, scoring at the rim and setting up easy baskets for others.
After the game, Brown praised Taylor for stepping up and shining when thrust into the rotation.
“Jermaine was terrific,” Brown said. “Once we controlled the loose ball or the rebound, he just got out and ran the floor, got easy baskets and put pressure on our opponents. When we get stops and we get out and we run the way we did tonight, it makes the game fun for everybody and it gives you a chance to continue to be re-energized so that defensively you can keep bringing it. I applaud [him] for the performance [he] had tonight. It was really good.”
Taylor has played three seasons in the NBA for the Houston Rockets and Sacramento Kings. However, he hasn’t been able to stick with a team since the 2010-11 season, but he hopes that changes this year with the Cavaliers.
Cleveland has three open roster spots, assuming they enter the season with 15 players on their roster. Taylor has a shot at making the team, but there’s plenty of competition for the final spots. Elliot Williams, Henry Sims, Kenny Kadji, Matt Dellavedova, Michael Lee, DeSagana Diop and Carrick Felix are also auditioning for a spot on the Cavs, so there’s no guarantee Taylor will make the final cut.
However, if Taylor continues to perform like he did on Thursday night, he should be just fine.
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