Two weeks ago I wrote about how the Pacers' march back to respectability had come mostly at the expense of inferior competition. At that point the Pacers were just 2-9 against likely playoff teams from both conferences. In the past 14 days they've made some progress, losing to Atlanta and Boston on the road, but beating Memphis and Milwaukee at home. They've climbed into the top half of John Hollinger's power rankings, currently sitting at 11th, behind only Miami and New York in the Eastern Conference. In terms of actual wins the Pacers currently lead the Central Division by a half game over the Bulls, and hold the 4th playoff seed in the East.

The Pacers find themselves in this position because of the strong play of their starters, particularly the recent consistency from Lance Stephenson and Paul George. They also find themselves in this position despite an enormous dearth of production from the bench. Last week Jared Wade, of Eight Points, Nine Seconds, penned a terrific post on the importance of Lance Stephenson. One of the key pieces of evidence he cited was how much worse the starters have played with Gerald Green or Sam Young in place of Stephenson (8.5 and 16 points worse per 100 possessions, respectively).

Danny Granger hasn't played a single game this season, but Frank Vogel has been committed to stretching his rotations regardless. Since the season began he's used at least 10 players on a regular basis, and now that Ben Hansbrough and Jeff Pendergraph are getting run the Pacers are often using 11-12 players. The NBA season is a lengthy grind and keeping the starters healthy and rested for the playoffs is an admirable goal. But holding down the starters minutes is also making every game a little bit tougher than it needs to be.