Life without Paul George is expected to be difficult for the Indiana Pacers, and injuries to fellow starters David West and George Hill won’t make things any easier.
That’s unless Roy Hibbert and Rodney Stuckey continue to step up, of course.
They’ll look to build on their solid performances in the season opener when the Memphis Grizzlies visit Friday night.
It’s well known George isn’t expected to play this season after suffering a gruesome injury in a Team USA scrimmage over the summer, but having West (sprained right ankle) and Hill (bruised left knee) out for at least the first three games came as a surprise.
Hibbert gave the Pacers the spark they needed Wednesday, scoring 22 points with eight rebounds and seven blocks in a 103-91 victory over Philadelphia.
”With so many of the other guys out of the lineup, we called his number a little bit more than normal,” coach Frank Vogel said. ”He played a physical brand of basketball.”
The 7-foot-2 center said he’s simply trying to play an effective role with so many key players out.
”It’s not necessarily taking all the shots, it’s just playing with force, trying to get offensive rebounds, trying to keep loose balls alive and playing defense to the best of your ability,” Hibbert said. ”Then everybody else will fall in line.”
Indiana also lost Lance Stephenson to Charlotte in free agency after the best season of his career. The Pacers signed Stuckey to a one-year deal with expectations he’d replace Stephenson’s production.
Stuckey hit 5 of 9 from the field – including both 3-point attempts – and finished with 16 points in just over 16 minutes off the bench Wednesday. He’s fighting through a sore right foot, which caused him to miss several practices leading up to the opener.
"I’ve learned not to be surprised with what Rodney Stuckey can do," Vogel said. "I’ve been very, very impressed with him from the moment he got here. I think he’s going to have a big season for us."
Donald Sloan filled in for Hill at point guard and finished with 16 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. The Pacers hope their makeshift lineup can withstand another test against a Grizzlies team that’s coming off its first victory in a season opener in 14 years.
Marc Gasol scored a career-high 32 points while Zach Randolph added 25 and 13 rebounds in Wednesday’s 105-101 win over Minnesota.
”That was a good game to start the season,” coach Dave Joerger said. ”We made some mistakes, but we fought and we fought and we fought.”
The Grizzlies won despite getting just 10 points from their reserves, as starters Mike Conley (16 points) and Courtney Lee (14) also had solid games. Tony Allen was the only starter not in double figures with eight points, but he added five assists and a game-high three steals.
Allen, though, wasn’t pleased the Grizzlies allowed so many points after they finished third in the league in scoring defense last season at 94.6 per game – one spot behind Indiana at 92.3.
"We have a lot of improving to do – obviously executing on the defensive end," Allen said. "I felt there were a lot of times we could have closed them out and increased the lead. I thought we let our guard down.
"First game is out of the way, now we can look at film and see ways we can improve."
The Pacers and Grizzlies played predictably low-scoring contests last season as each team won at home. Indiana won 95-79 on Nov. 11 before Memphis’ 82-71 victory March 22.