Can Lance Take His Home Cooking on the Road?

Victor Oladipo rejoined the rest of the Pacers at the airport for the flight to New Orleans on Tuesday, which likely means Lance Stephenson will rejoin the rest of the reserves for their game on Wednesday.

That's fine with Stephenson, who started on two Pacers teams that reached the conference finals but has come off the bench for all the games Oladipo has played this season. The trick for him now is to learn to approach road games with the same nerve and verve he brings to the friendly confines of Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

In other words, he needs to learn to raid someone else's refrigerator.

Stephenson plays like Superman in home games, stripping off his warmups and rushing into games to save the day, while riling fans, teammates and opponents alike with aggressive play and familiar "antics." He plays air guitar with "Bad to the Bone" running through his head and, in Saturday's victory over Philadelphia, flapped his arms after the Sixers called a timeout because he felt he could fly.

He's more mild-mannered on the road, and the stats reflect the difference in his demeanor:

In other words, at home he's more like the player who was nearly an All-Star in the 2013-14 season, while on the road he's more like the player five teams have traded or let go.

Stephenson struggled in Monday's loss to Washington when he started for Oladipo, who was ill. He hit just 4-of-14 shots, including 1-of-7 3-pointers, and committed six turnovers while scoring 13 points. There were positives, such as nine rebounds and six assists, but he clearly wasn't as comfortable as he had been coming off the bench in previous games.

"Right now, I'm used to coming off the bench," he said following Tuesday's practice at St. Vincent Center. "When you come off the bench you can see what you need to do when you get on the floor. When you start the game, you have to get a feel for it. It's an adjustment.

"I'm not going to say it's tough, but when you're on the bench and see what the team needs, it's better when you come in."

Oladipo's return should resolve that issue in Wednesday's game against the Pelicans, but the home/road thing remains. In his two seasons as a starter for the Pacers, from 2012-14, Stephenson's home production was typical of most players — slightly but not significantly better. Now, there's a gulf to be bridged.

He claims he takes the same mindset into road games as home games, but misses the fan interaction.

"It's a little different," he said. "When you score at home, the fans get into it. When you score at away games, the fans don't care."

One wonders what might happen if Stephenson "engaged" fans in other arenas as he does at home. He obviously would draw boos and insults rather than cheers if he played air guitar after scoring or flapped his arms after laser-seeking assists, but would that help him play better? Reggie Miller thrived on angering opposing fans, and then silencing them. Just ask Spike Lee. Or the fans in Milwaukee, who watched him don a Superman t-shirt for pregame warmups in the 2000 playoffs.

It worked for Miller. The difference in his home and road stats over his 18-season NBA career was practically negligible, as he averaged just .04 more points at home. In the 1998-99 lockout season, his shooting and scoring stats were better on the road across the board, and some shooting percentages were better on the road in other seasons as well.

Stephenson says he's reluctant to antagonize fans in road games.

"I don't try to p--- the fans off in away games too much," he said. "When you're home, you can do whatever you want. You're in your house. You can go in your refrigerator, you can go anywhere. When you're away, you can't just go in somebody's refrigerator and do dances and take anything out of the refrigerator. I try to tame it a little bit."

Pacers coach Nate McMillan tries to walk a fine line between letting Stephenson bring emotion to home games without showing disrespect for opponents or the game. He's not asking Stephenson to act out in road games as he does in home games, he just wants him to improve his production.

"The game itself should motivate you, regardless of where you're playing," McMillan said. "There are guys who get fired up at home and there are some guys who take that mental challenge and get fired up on the road – "it's us against the world." As a player you've got to find ways to get yourself in that zone."

As long as Oladipo feels up to playing, Stephenson will return to the familiarity of playing off the bench in New Orleans. The next step will be to find a comfort zone in other arenas.

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Mark Montieth's book, "Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis," covers the formation and early seasons of the franchise. It is available at retail outlets throughout Indiana and online at sources such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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