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By Jim Brighters, NBA Editor - Archive - Email
The X Factor
Lance Stephenson During the postseason, Lance Stephenson is averaging 12 points
in Pacers' wins, and just 6.8 points in Pacers' losses.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - There's enough star power on the Miami Heat to light the night sky.

LeBron James is one of the most famous people on Earth. Dwyane Wade isn't quite LeBron, but he isn't anonymous and Chris Bosh is going to the Hall of Fame one day. Seriously, just ask him.

Ray Allen will be enshrined. He was even in a Spike Lee movie.

Chris Anderson, Miami's backup big man, has a gigantic Mohawk reminiscent of a electro-shocked rooster and has tattoos covering his body so much so that he looks like an atlas.

Even Pat Riley, the team president, is a rock star.

The Indian Pacers have three different players who've made an All-Star team and one more in street clothes for the entire season. Paul George is becoming a household name. Same goes for Roy Hibbert, appearances on "Parks and Recreation" notwithstanding.

So how is that a second-round draft pick is having such a huge impact on the Eastern Conference Finals?

Lance Stephenson was taken by the Pacers with the 40th overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. He was a much ballyhooed high school player in Coney Island, N.Y., and is the state's all-time leading scorer.

He went to Cincinnati for one year, was taken in the second round by the Pacers and his career didn't get off to a great start.

In August 2010, Stephenson was arrested for pushing his girlfriend down a flight of steps. The case was dismissed. In high school, he was suspended for an altercation with a teammate, but the biggie was an arrest for groping a 17- year-old fellow student.

The Pacers tired of his immaturity and demoted him to the D-League late in his rookie season.

Stephenson saw more action his sophomore season with the Pacers, but still wasn't a consistent contributor. It wasn't until this season that Stephenson became a factor, and it was only due to the injury suffered by Danny Granger.

Stephenson started 72 games during the 2012-13 campaign, averaging a respectable 8.8 points. Those numbers have climbed during the playoffs and especially in the Eastern Conference Finals.

"When he's bad, we typically struggle. But when he's good, we're pretty darn good," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said after their Game 4 win on Tuesday. "I mean, that's the simplest way to put it, and it's very accurate, he's the barometer."

Truer words may never have been spoken.

During the postseason, Stephenson is averaging 12 points in Pacers' wins, and just 6.8 points in Pacers' losses. He has six double-digit scoring nights in Indiana victories, and only one in an Indiana setback.

Stephenson poured in 20 points against the Heat in the Pacers' win on Tuesday.

"I had to make this one of the best games I've played," he said. "I have to show people I'm ready for any competition or any challenge that comes to me."

Part of that competitive spirit came to light when Stephenson spent some quality time defending James in Game 4. The story goes, Stephenson asked Vogel for the assignment. Who asks to cover James?

"We were just talking. Let's not make a bigger story than that is," Vogel said. "We were just talking about loosening the load on Paul."

The plan will stay in place for Thursday's Game 5.

"Yeah, that was one of the shifts in philosophy going into Game 4, try multiple bodies on him," Vogel said Wednesday of defending James.

But Stephenson is known as a scorer, at least that was his Coney Island reputation. In Game 4, he took the ball to the basket, pushed tempo and even handled the ball.

"I told Lance when he's that aggressive and he's pushing it and looking to score, we're a better team," said Indiana guard George Hill. "We need him to continue to do that for us to win this series, and he knows that."

He definitely does.

"I'm very important to this team," Stephenson said. "I can't take no days off."

RANDOM THOUGHTS

- James, David West and Stephenson were all fined for flopping in Game 4. Again, these flopping fines of $5,000 do nothing to stop a player from doing it during a game.

- Officiating can make a huge difference. Let's agree that the officiating in Game 4 was a little suspect late. I don't think the sixth foul on James was a foul, I don't think Dwyane Wade traveled and I don't think the ball went off West's arm on that crucial out-of-bounds play. That last one was more than a little discouraging considering the refs took a month to review it. Officiating should never be discussed in games this far into the postseason, but as ESPN's Tim Legler (go Explorers!) correctly pointed out, Indiana outplayed Miami in Game 4, so at least the "right" team won.

- The way the coach carousel is playing out means trouble for one team in particular - the Philadelphia 76ers. With Mike Budenholzer going to Atlanta, Jeff Hornacek in Phoenix and Steve Clifford headed to Charlotte, there are five openings left - Milwaukee, the Los Angeles Clippers, Brooklyn, Detroit and Philly. A sixth, the Sacramento Kings, is expected soon, but all reports indicate Golden State assistant Mike Malone is the only choice.

But back to the Sixers, disqualify the Clippers and Nets because the best candidates will take those much more attractive jobs. If Phil Jackson is truly aiding Joe Dumars in the Pistons' search, then Brian Shaw, a longtime Jackson assistant, makes sense. The Bucks seem keen on former Hawks coach Larry Drew. And that leaves the Sixers with? Kelvin Sampson, a Houston Rockets assistant, is my hunch now that Sam Hinkie, formerly of the Rockets, is in charge. Michael Curry, the Sixers' top assistant, is running pre-draft workouts for Philly, and is probably a candidate, but some reports indicate he's in the running for the Milwaukee job. No matter who Hinkie tabs, he's not rushing to do it, that's for sure.

- I love the idea that Karl Malone is returning to the Utah Jazz as a part- time assistant. If you believe Utah is not bringing back Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap (I believe that), then Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter are on. They are both incredible prospects, but need seasoning. Who better than Malone?

- Memphis Grizzlies reserve Quincy Pondexter got a date with Miss Tennessee 2012 Chandler Lawson via Twitter. I imagine I would have to explain this type of courtship for some time to my father.

- Movie moment - Know what's a bad trend in movies these days - the whole movie being made about a holiday. We've seen "New Year's Eve" and "Valentine's Day." They're just vehicles for a bunch of stars to appear in one movie with the holiday as a back drop. Put together a good script about Flag Day and I'll watch.

- TV moment - "The Office" finale is behind us. As I wrote before, I stopped watching last season, but checked out the final episode. As an episode of television, it stunk. As a series finale, it wasn't terrible.