Stuckey was cookin’, scores a season-high 34 points as Pacers win sixth straight game

Rodney Stuckey was drafted 15th overall in the 2007 by the Detroit Pistons and he spent his first seven seasons there. But he had had enough of the losing and enough of the disorganization that last summer, he sought a fresh start.

It wasn’t about the money; he didn’t have much of that growing up. It was about the right fit on a successful team inside a great organization.

He’s found that in the Pacers, has jelled quickly with the guys, and is comfortable in his role after an unusual request.

Stuckey buried his first six shots Tuesday and was the catalyst of the bench unit that scored a season-best 73 points, 13 points shy of the Orlando Magic’s output for the game. 118-86 was the final as Indiana posted its highest total of the season.

The Pacers are the NBA’s hottest team, winners in 12 of their last 14 games (respectable losses to San Antonio, Oklahoma City), including six straight. In each of those six wins, they’ve held their opponent — granted, it’s been against a battered Cleveland and Chicago team and New York twice — to 86 points or less and below 40 percent shooting

“Coach has challenged us and we’ve stepped up to the plate,” said reserve guard C.J. Watson. “That’s what’s going to get us into the playoffs and hopefully help us advance.”

[Vogel rules out March 14 return for Paul George]

Back to Stuckey, who was on a tear Tuesday and turned in the best individual performance by any Pacer this year.

“Our bench is all playing well,” coach Frank Vogel said of the bench’s 73 points. “All those guys are playing really well, and they’re playing well together. There’s a good symmetry, a good chemistry there. Rodney is just, … I don’t know if this is the best he’s ever played in his career but it’s got to be close if it’s not.”

The most impressive thing about his performance, 34 points (on 13-of-19 shooting), seven assists, and six assists, was that he didn’t force anything. Those seven assists paced the team.

“He could have gone for 50 if he really wanted to, but he didn’t force at all,” Vogel continued. “He was our best ball mover tonight.”

But that never even crossed Stuckey’s mind.

“It’s a team game,” said Stuckey, unwilling to pay himself on the back. “When I was open, I was shooting the ball. If my teammate’s open, I’m going to pass it. That’s just always how I play. I’m never going to try to force anything.”

Stuckey said he’s not only comfortable with the Pacers, but now comfortable in his role. Towards the end of February, he went to coach Vogel asked to be played off the bench.

A rarity.

“I just knew I would have a lot more opportunity to create for myself and also for my teammates, also to look for my shot a little bit more and be more aggressive,” Stuckey explained. “Obviously with that first unit, we have a lot of people out there. … I thought it would be better for me to come in and just be aggressive and play my game, and to be able to create.

“I love the role that I’m in right now. … I love doing that so I think I’ll stick with that.”

Added Vogel: “Last couple of years, he’s had that sparkplug-off-the-bench role, and I think it’s something that he was comfortable with, something we brought him here to do. … He’s clearly more comfortable in that role.”

Of Stuckey’s season-high 34 points, six shy of his career-high set in 2008, 18 were scored from range as he sank 6-of-9 3-balls. (The Pacers’ 17 3-pointers in the game matched a franchise record set back in 2010.) For his career, he’s shooting below 30 percent from deep but he’s made at least half of his tries in 10 of the last 11 tries.

It’s not magic; he’s worked at it. After each practice for the last few weeks, Stuckey and Damjan Rudež have stayed behind to shoot over 100 3-pointers. (Rudež, by the way, nearly topped his career high (18) tonight with 17 points and five assists as a starter.)

“The more work I put in, the better I’ll be,” Stuckey said. “I’ll continue to do it.”

In July, he signed with the Pacers for the veteran’s minimum, which only set the Pacers back $915,243. Underrated rookie Shayne Whittington is the only Pacer that gets paid less. It’s proved to be an excellent offseason decision by the Pacers’ front office, getting Stuckey for under $1 million instead of Lance Stephenson for a whopping $9 million.

He’s feeling great, feeling comfortable, and has the Pacers not only contending for a playoff spot, but for one of the final three.

“I knew I was cookin’, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if we didn’t get that ‘W’ so that’s the most important thing,” said Stuckey, ever so selfless.

Mahinmi Ain’t So Bad Himself

Another reserve impressing recently is Ian Mahinmi. The 28-year-old is shining off the bench, providing energy and grabbing boards more than anything. In Tuesday’s win, he scored six points and grabbed double-digit rebounds (10) for the second time in three games. There’s an argument to be had that he’s outplaying starter Roy Hibbert. It was his double-double that was key in last week’s home win over the Bulls.

“I think he’s just another guy who every year he’s been her has gotten more comfortable,” Vogel said. “He cares, he works, and is just getting better.”

Mahinmi, like Stuckey, credited the team.

“I think we’re jelling,” he said after Tuesday’s win. “The whole month, we’re just clicking. Guys are playing with a lot of confidence and we just got to keep this train going.

“I think we’re getting back to that defensive identity. All season, we’ve been searching. It’s been tough. We’ve been battling a lot of injuries and stuff like that. Sometimes we got away from our identity but I think it’s back now.”

Flo-Jo Perfect

The Pacers wore the 90s Flo-Jo uniforms for the fourth time this season, and each time has resulted in a win. They are scheduled to wear them two more times this season: March 29 vs Dallas and April 8 at New York.

Miles A Late Scratch

Usual start C.J. Miles was absent for the 12th game this season. Miles went through his usual pre-game workout when his right foot flared up. At 5:20 p.m., coach Frank Vogel said during his game interview with reporters that everyone was healthy and available (sans Paul George, of course). Then, just before 6:00 p.m., Miles was ruled out for the game.

This isn’t the first time he’s had this issue. Miles is working in orthotics for his flat feet and in hopes for correcting his calf strain problems. The fix has not come without setbacks.

[Click here for an in-depth explanation of Miles’ recent foot issues.]

Colts on Hand

Colts linebacker Robert Mathis sat on the North baseline and when he was shown on the giant video board, he could be seen saying “I’ll be back. Former Colts tight end Dallas Clark was also courtside.

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