The Indiana Pacers have opened the season with back-to-back wins, leaving eight more to go to reach the goal established by guard Lance Stephenson. Just before the season tipped off, Stephenson says he challenged his teammates to win their first 10 games.
Stephenson will play a huge factor on whether the Pacers can meet that goal. While Danny Granger is out up to three weeks with a calf strain, Stephenson is in the starting lineup. In the first two games, Stephenson has scored 35 points and shot 63% (57% three point range). He has handed out 9 assists with just 3 turnovers. He has also grabbed 15 rebounds.
"Lance is one of our best players," said Pacers coach Frank Vogel. "He's extremely valuable for us. He's really showing what he can do. He just gives us great energy and an edge out there."
Stephenson started 72 games a year ago, and 19 more in the playoffs, while Granger missed most of the season and underwent knee surgery. Stephenson averaged 18 points and 5 rebounds a game.
"He's going to be real valuable," said Pacers top scorer Paul George after the season opening win over the Orlando Magic. "The way he pushed the ball and got in the paint and made plays is what he can do every night. We don't even need to draw up a play. He can do a lot of special things in the open court. That's what we're going to need out of him. That has got to be his identity this year."
Much of the preseason Pacers discussion revolved around whether Stephenson or Granger would be in the starting lineup this season. Granger missed most of last season with a knee surgery. Now his return is delayed by another injury. Stephenson is not only starting, but leading the Pacers improved bench.
"It really doesn't matter who starts or who's sixth man," said Stephenson. "I feel like either way, the team is going to be great. As long as we're winning, it doesn't matter. Everybody is going to be happy. Most important is that I control the second unit. Just make plays for everybody and keep the lead up as much as possible."
Orlando Johnson teams with Stephenson in the backcourt when the reserves take the floor.
"Me and Lance are animals out there," said Johnson. "We're looking to attack every time out. When we're both out there, it's trouble. I love the way he's playing right now. I love the confidence he's playing with right now. He's just got to stay with it and stay consistent. So do I."
The Pacers host the Cleveland Cavaliers Saturday night at 7:00 p.m. at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.