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Pacers React: Hibbert's In, Stephenson is Out

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

January 31, 2014 | 12:45 a.m.

Roy Hibbert was selected by coaches to the Eastern Conference All-Star team for the second time Thursday, becoming just the fourth Pacers player in NBA franchise history to be honored more than once.

The talk of the evening, though, focused on the most notable member of the Pacers not selected to the team as a reserve by the Eastern Conference coaches, Lance Stephenson. Despite having superior all-around stats to a couple of the reserves named on Thursday, Joe Johnson and DeMar DeRozan, and despite the fact the Pacers have the best record in the East, Stephenson didn't get enough votes from the coaches for a backup spot on the conference's honor squad.

Stephenson is quiet by nature, and never shows emotion in interviews, so it wasn't difficult for him to say next to nothing following the Pacers' loss to Phoenix at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Charles Barkley and David West spoke bluntly on his behalf, though.

Barkley, speaking on TNT, called Stephenson's omission a “travesty,” adding the coaches' collective ignorance on the matter explained why the conference has so many teams with losing records.

West later took a strong stand on behalf of his teammate in the postgame locker room.

“I just think it's unfortunate that Lance didn't make it,” West told a small group of reporters afterward. “It's a slap in the face. He has to use it as motivation." West, clearly upset, then used a choice word for coaches in the league who didn't vote for Stephenson.

A Yahoo report claimed Toronto's Kyle Lowry was the leading vote-getter among the non-selected Eastern Conference players. The prevailing theory is that Stephenson – who compiled his fourth triple-double on Thursday, more than the Eastern All-Star roster combined – was left out because of his occasional but dramatic gyrations following big shots during games.

West didn't want to hear that.

“That stuff is petty,” he said. “...The fact that he's beat (the other coaches' teams) and he's had great games against the majority of the coaches … he's a major reason we've been able to get (35) wins.”

West, a two-time All-Star with New Orleans, had been promoted by Pacers coach Frank Vogel for the team, but had little interest in playing in the game. He turned the conversation back to Stephenson when asked about not making the team.

“For me it's not a big deal,” West said. “But for a guy like Lance, who's carried us at times with his energy … he's won games for us single-handedly this year. It's unfortunate he didn't make it. He can go out and prove these guys wrong. For some of the guys who made it, this will be the highlight of their year. The highlight of our year will be after April. I just hope Lance uses that to fuel him down the stretch this year.”

Stephenson claimed he had not been told of his “snub” before the game, but both Vogel and West said they talked with him about it. Vogel delivered the news to him between 6:30 and 6:45. West, sensing a shift in Stephenson's pre-game mood, took him aside in a hallway and asked what was wrong. When Stephenson told him, he encouraged him to draw energy from it.

Stephenson, though, said he wasn't bothered much by the omission and wouldn't need it for motivation.

“It's just an All-Star game,” he said. “I just want to win games and win a championship.

“This doesn't make me any madder. I try to bring aggressiveness to every game. I work hard. I'm going to keep working hard.”

While Stephenson didn't speak angrily, he played that way.

He ripped down the rebound of the Suns' first shot of the game and dribbled through traffic all the way to the other end, delivering a deft pass to West for a layup. He had 12 points, nine rebounds and six assists by halftime, and finished with 17 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists to match Detlef Schrempf's franchise record for triple-doubles in a season.

“My heart aches for Lance,” Hibbert said. “He deserves to be an All-Star. He’s been playing great all season. … I’m not sure who made it, I haven’t seen the list, but I’d take Lance over … I’m going to stop right there.”

Hibbert joins Reggie Miller, Jermaine O'Neal and teammate Paul George as multiple All-Star selections from the Pacers. He also made the team in 2012.

“It’s nice,” said Hibbert, who finished with 26 points – one short of his season-high – against the undersized Suns. “Seriously, it couldn’t have happened without my teammates. I think my defensive presence is recognized a little bit more this year, so that helped me out. I try to be as sound as I can on offense but I’m more relied for on defense. I’m happy.”

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