With his team dragging of late, Indiana Pacers head coach first gave his five starters a day off from practice Tuesday, then had Paul George, David West, Roy Hibbert, Lance Stephenson and George Hill watch Wednesday night’s thrilling 104-102 win in Milwaukee from the bench. The gamble paid off as the Pacers continue to battle for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Per the Journal Sentinel and NBA.com:

Indiana coach Frank Vogel said in his pre-game remarks that the Pacers consulted with the league about the decision to sit all five starters Wednesday night against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Vogel said four of the regulars (would) dress but (would) not play under any circumstance. Center Roy Hibbert (was) inactive for the game.

Vogel said league officials did not have a problem with the Pacers’ decision.

The Indiana starting five (was): Donald Sloan and Evan Turner in the backcourt, Rasual Butler and Luis Scola at forwards and Ian Mahinmi at center.

“We played a disturbing game against the Atlanta Hawks last week. We scored 23 points in a half,” Vogel said. “We need to change our focus, making some adjustments, even if this is a dramatic move, to get ourselves playing right.

“The bench has been playing very poorly. The starters have been playing very poorly. Hopefully this will help get the starters’ legs underneath them and hopefully it will give the bench a chance to gain some confidence by playing extended minutes.”

They were headed to south Florida next, a 2-1 lead in the series already, with a chance Friday (7:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV) to pretty much seal the deal. After so much gnashing of teeth over their tumble – in the standings, yes, but also in confidence, trust and other team qualities – the Pacers were able to act like they knew this outcome was coming all along.

“We accomplished the purpose,” said Paul George, who spent the game in warm-ups after getting in some conditioning and shooting. “We felt very comfortable with the group we had, that they were going to go out there and get us a win. It wasn’t like we were sacrificing the game. We game-planned. Coach really drilled and worked hard with the unit he put out there.”

When Indiana visits the Heat on Friday, its starters will have gone five days – more than 120 hours – between games.

“We probably haven’t had that since the season started,” Lance Stephenson said. “Any rest can help us right now.”