Luis Scola has a little routine when he plays a good game and is asked to stay on the court for a postgame radio or television interview. He always makes a joke of some sort, such as complaining that he doesn't want to do it or asking what took so long for them to ask.
Sunday, after he had scored a season-high 23 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in 18 minutes, 44 seconds to lead the Pacers to a blowout victory over Miami, he was pondering his choice of humor. But the joke was on him.
"I was thinking what joke I would do when he comes to get me, but there was no interview! I couldn't believe I didn't get an interview!" he said later in the locker room, laughing at the slight.
Paul George's season debut following an eight-month rehabilitation from a broken leg was the story of Sunday's victory over the Heat. Scola could have scored 50 and kicked in a game-winner from mid-court at the buzzer and it wouldn't have mattered much, given the build-up and drama surrounding George's return. Even in the postgame locker room, Scola had plenty of time to sit down for a relaxed one-on-one conversation, given that the other reporters had departed with notebooks and recorders full of George-related material.
Scola's a story, too, because he's waging a bit of a comeback himself. The oldest player on the Pacers roster – he'll turn 35 on April 30 – he gives no hint of decline, whether it's statistical or the eyeball test. He's averaging 9.6 points, two more than last season, and 6.5 rebounds, 1.7 more than last season. He's played every game but the one coach Frank Vogel sat him down to give playing time to Lavoy Allen, ending his streak of 277 consecutive games.
He feels as good as ever, and he's grown accustomed to playing off the bench, a role that was uncomfortable for him last season after playing most of his career as a starter.
"I never feel bad physically," he said. "I've learned to play this role coming off the bench. It took me a little bit longer than I thought it was going to take."
Scola's health is the result of a strict diet that excludes sugar, gluten and dairy products. He's never missed even a practice because of illness in an NBA career that began in October of 2007, and he's only missed eight games because of an injury – a hyperextended knee late in the 2010-11 season with Houston. He said when he joined the Pacers before last season that he wants to play as long as anyone will have him, and he doesn't rule out the possibility of playing past 40.
"I don't feel close to the end, that's the truth," he said Sunday. "I know people don't play that much longer after 35, but I'm feeling well. I don't know how fast the process is from the moment you start feeling close to the end versus the actual end. But I'm not feeling close to the end. I've got energy and I feel I can still do this and I'm still having fun and I can work out hard and play hard every day. As long as all that's still there I don't see me being close to retirement."
Scola was regarded by some fans as a disappointment last season, as he adjusted to his limited role off the bench behind David West. More than a few had grown to consider the trade that brought him to the Pacers from Phoenix for Miles Plumlee, Gerald Green and a first-round draft pick to be a mistake. Those viewpoints are worthy of revision now that Plumlee has been traded again, to Milwaukee, and Green fluctuates between starring performances and not playing at all. The Pacers haven't shown improvement since Scola's arrival, but plenty of other factors better explain that.
Lately, Scola has outplayed West, who has dealt with injuries throughout the season. Over the last 10 games, Scola has averaged 11.7 points on 49 percent shooting and 7.1 rebounds over 21.5 minutes per game. West has averaged 9.3 points on 39 percent shooting and 5.6 rebounds over 25.8 minutes.
Scola's stats against the Heat on Sunday, when he scored 17 of his points in the fourth quarter, were skewed a bit by circumstance. He was feasting on post-ups against an undersized lineup, and with the outcome no longer in doubt. Still, he showed moves around the basket that none of the Pacers' centers – Roy Hibbert, Ian Mahinmi and Lavoy Allen – have shown, which raised a question: Could the 6-9 Scola play more often at center, and with West?
"Always when a player plays like that, you want to try to give him more minutes," Vogel said, leaving the door cracked open.
Scola doesn't air gripes. He didn't complain in last season's first-round playoff series against Atlanta when, after scoring 17 points in Game 3, he played just one possession in Game 6 and not at all in Game 7. He didn't complain when he was held out of the game against New York earlier this season, ending his consecutive games streak. He's not complaining now. He does, however, make it clear he likes to play.
Would he like to be used more often in post-up situations, rather than playing on the perimeter?
"I'd like to be used, period," he said. "Any type of situation. I'm just happy to have a good situation for me to do something. I was never a guy that asked for a lot of post-up touches, or plays and all that. I just want to be out there playing. I just want to play and play well with a lot of energy. When you play hard, good things happen."
And when you play hard and well in a contract year, good things happen in the offseason. Scola will be a free agent this summer, and seems certain to have a marketplace despite his advancing age. West, who turns 35 on Aug. 29, has an option on the final year of his contract, and says he won't think about his options until the season ends. Even if West returns, it's not at all unlikely team president Larry Bird, who had pursued Scola for a few years before acquiring him in 2013, will continue that pursuit.
That would be fine with Scola, whose home in the Geist Reservoir area is filled with a wife and four sons. Moving would be inconvenient, to say the least.
"The more years that go by, the bigger the family is part of the decision," he said, as one of his sons sat in a chair next to his locker. "My kids like it here and want to stay here. They've become such bigger Pacer fans; they'd be really mad at me if I had to play against the Pacers. I try to talk to them (about the realities of the NBA), but they don't want to hear it. They just want things to work out.
"This is a great place and I believe it's going to be a very good team next year. It's not up to me, you know? We'll see if the guys in the front office are happy with what I did and then we'll talk. Every team that wants you to stay, it's a good thing. It means you did well and they like you and think you can help them. So I'm looking forward to getting a positive nod on that and then move on from that. I don't know what's going to happen."
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