The Indiana Pacers finished the regular season on a high note, if nothing else, with a 101-86 victory over the Orlando Magic on Wednesday night. Rasual Butler and Chris Copeland led the way for Indiana with 19 points apiece.
For the veteran Butler, who spent last year on the outskirts of NBA borders looking in, it was a soothing win in a number of ways.
Butler scored his season-high 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the floor at the Amway Center against the lottery-bound Magic. He also played a team-high 37 minutes and dished out 5 assists in the process, nearly 20% of Indiana’s team total of 26 assists.
Butler, who will turn 35 next month, knocked down 2-of-4 3-point attempts in the 15-point route of Orlando. His 19 points were the most he’s scored in a game in four years.
It was an all-around active night for Indiana’s eldest player. Today, it’s easy for Butler to enjoy his profession, despite appearances in and out of the rotation throughout this season. After all, he’s playing on a team contending for a championship.
The Pacers made it clear they wanted Butler to stick around from the start of training camp. He made the final roster with a stellar preseason for Indiana. The team set up his locker next to Lance Stephenson’s, hoping the two would mesh while Butler taught Stephenson some lessons along the way — how to mature and become a true professional in an adult game.
Things became further etched in stone midway through the season when Indiana released its second-round draft pick from last summer in Orlando Johnson, rather than sending Butler on his way.
Ever since Johnson was released in late February, following the trade that sent former Pacer Danny Granger to Philadelphia for Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen, Butler has thrived off the bench when given minutes. His 19-point effort Wednesday was further proof of his worth on the Eastern Conference’s top team.
Thanks, in part, to Butler and his veteran presence, Indiana finished the regular season 56-26, their best mark since the 2003-04 team compiled a 61-21 record.
With the win, the Pacers also landed in the record books. Indy has improved its regular season record by five or more wins for five straight seasons, the first team to do so since the New York Knicks in the late ’60s.
It remains to be seen whether Rasual Butler moves into the playoff rotation beginning Saturday in the first round of the postseason against the Atlanta Hawks. But whether he plays meaningful minutes again this year or not, everyone in this locker room can tell you that Butler’s presence this year has been meaningful.