Pistons-Pacers Preview

A late-season surge and a hard-fought playoff series under an

inexperienced coach raised expectations for the Indiana Pacers.

The Detroit Pistons hope their new coach can help change the

mentality in their locker room as well.

Indiana hosts Detroit on Monday night in the season opener for

the Central Division rivals.

The Pacers (37-45) are coming off their first postseason

appearance in five years, sparked by the hiring of then-interim

coach Frank Vogel on Jan. 30.

Vogel led Indiana to a 20-18 finish after replacing the fired

Jim O’Brien, and the eighth-seeded Pacers proceeded to give MVP

Derrick Rose and Eastern Conference-best Chicago all it could

handle.

The Bulls eliminated the Pacers in five games, but the first

four were each decided by six points or fewer.

The inspired finish led Pacers president Larry Bird to hire

Vogel on a full-time basis, and the coach welcomes the increased

responsibility.

“I want expectations,” Vogel said. “I want them having the bar

set high. This team is capable. We’ve got pieces in place to do

some really special things and to take this league by storm.”

That’s exactly what the Pistons did through the early 2000s, but

those days seem long gone.

Detroit reached six straight Eastern Conference finals from

2003-08, making two NBA finals appearances and winning the 2004

championship. But the team is stuck in rebuilding mode after three

consecutive losing seasons, and new coach Lawrence Frank is charged

with bringing the franchise back to respectability under new

ownership.

“We have to represent what this Piston organization has stood

for, for the majority of the time since its existence,” Frank said.

“We know we have to win our fans back.”

Former coach John Kuester feuded with players, who once

boycotted a shootaround and would often show up late for practices.

Guard Ben Gordon saw his numbers decline under Kuester to a

career-low 11.2 points per game, and he insists Frank is making

positive changes to bring improvement after a 30-52 season.

“Nobody, if you ask me, last year was utilized the correct way

to basically maximize their abilities,” Gordon said. “I think with

Coach Frank and what he’s teaching, and the way he wants us to

play, I think guys will have more of an opportunity to play to

their strengths.”

Former All-Star David West should add strength to Indiana’s

frontcourt after leaving New Orleans as a free agent to join a

group that already featured leading scorer Danny Granger and

7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert.

West averaged 18.9 points and 7.6 rebounds last season before

tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on March

24, an injury that required surgery.

Granger, averaging 23.3 points per game over the last three

seasons, said the addition of a reliable power forward in West will

improve the Pacers.

“It makes my job a lot easier,” Granger said. “I think it makes

everyone’s job a lot easier. When you have another threat on the

court, especially a scoring threat like David West, you have to

honor everyone. That’s hard for defenses to do.”

Tyler Hansbrough should still see plenty of minutes. He played

sparingly under O’Brien but thrived under Vogel, averaging 14.1

points after the coaching change compared to 7.2 before.

While Indiana also added former San Antonio guard George Hill in

a draft-night trade to back up starter Darren Collison, Detroit was

happy simply to get two of its top scorers back in the fold.

Tayshaun Prince tested free agency but ultimately decided to

return for a 10th season, and restricted free agent Rodney Stuckey

re-signed for three years. Stuckey averaged 15.5 points last season

and Prince 14.1 – tying Richard Hamilton for second on the

team.

Hamilton was waived Dec. 12, signing with division rival

Chicago.

Greg Monroe, however, returns after a solid rookie season, and

rookie Brandon Knight – the eighth overall pick out of Kentucky –

hopes to provide a spark. Swedish forward Jonas Jerebko could be a

factor after missing all of last season with a torn Achilles’

tendon.

Frank wouldn’t reveal his starting lineup for Monday. Charlie

Villanueva won’t be available, as he’ll begin serving three more

games of a four-game suspension dating back to last season for an

altercation with Cleveland’s Ryan Hollins.

“Obviously we’ve looked at some different combinations and given

a lot of thought to it, but when we get to shootaround (Monday)

that’s when we’ll announce the starting lineup,” Frank said.

These teams split four meetings last season – both winning twice

at home – after Indiana had won the previous six matchups.