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.