The Pacers will almost certainly have two players representing their team at All-Star weekend in New Orleans in Paul George and Roy Hibbert, with George likely to be voted in as a starter by the fans, and Hibbert likely to be selected as a reserve by the Eastern Conference coaches.
It’s also possible that the team with the league’s best record, now at 31-7 after a thorough 117-89 demolition of the New York Knicks, may see a third player added to the midseason exhibition in Lance Stephenson.
Stephenson has been huge all season long for the Pacers, posting triple-double stat lines more than once while making the leap from hit-or-miss role player a season ago to legitimate NBA starter who demands the attention of the defense. He posted a career-high 28 points in Thursday’s blowout win over the Knicks, which was a team-best for the night and tied Carmelo Anthony for game-high scoring honors.
New York actually led this game 31-30 after one, thanks to a hot start from Anthony that saw him score 18 points in the period on just eight shots. But his teammates couldn’t provide much help offensively, and injuries suffered during the game took away two of the Knicks’ key defenders.
Kenyon Martin left in the second quarter with an ankle injury and did not return, and later Amar’e Stoudemire left in the third quarter with something similar. Knicks head coach Mike Woodson said afterward that both players would likely miss the next few games.
J.R. Smith was back in the lineup after his second suspension in recent days, and played fine in finishing with 12 points on 12 shots in 28 minutes of action. But messing with the team’s chemistry after it had put together a streak of wins proved costly, and between the lineup shuffling and the injuries — along with facing the league’s best team record-wise on the road — the Knicks didn’t have a shot.
As for Stephenson’s All-Star chances, the East is so weak this year that it may very well be decided that there’s nothing wrong with the Pacers having three players make the squad. If that’s the case, Stephenson will likely get the nod over teammate David West, and then will have to battle it out among the coaches for what might only be one available reserve backcourt spot. And when you take away the injured stars in the conference, it may come down to Stephenson or someone like DeMar DeRozan, Arron Afflalo, or Joe Johnson — all of whom have numbers showing they’re deserving, but only Stephenson has the wins that may solidify his case.