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Pacers’ leader confident as regular season begins

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David West has always been a big fan of his teammates.

But now, more than ever, he’s a really big fan of his teammates.

When the Indiana Pacers tip off the regular-season tonight against visiting Orlando, they will do so with a roster West is confident can  — and will — contend for a championship.

Louis Scola, C.J. Watson, Chris Copeland and Rasual Butler are the most prominent new faces on a team that narrowly missed reaching the NBA Finals last season.

“I think we’re better,” said the veteran power forward, who is in his third season with the Pacers. “I don’t think a lot of people thought that we could add some of the pieces that we did, but I think we’re better. We’re solid.

“We brought in some older guys, some guys with some more experience that have been in some tough situations, some tough moments, tough environments.”

Specifically, the additions are expected to toughen what has been a notoriously soft bench. The Pacers’ starting five was good enough to reach Game 7 of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, but the second unit didn’t provide enough firepower to get them to the next round.

West is confident this year’s upgraded version will.

“(Watson’s) been through some wars. Obviously, Scola’s been through some stuff, not just in the NBA, but internationally,” West said. “And then Copeland, he’s an older and experienced ballplayer, as well.

The West File

Name: David West

Position: Power forward

Size: 6-foot-9, 250 pounds

Age: 33

College: Xavier (three-time Altantic 10 Conference Player of the Year)

Drafted: Selected in the first round (18th pick) of the 2003 NBA Draft by the New Orleans Hornets

How acquired: Signed a free-agent contract with the Indiana Pacers on Dec. 11, 2011

Experience: 11th season (New Orleans 2003-04 to 2009-10, Pacers 2011 to present)

All-Star appearances: 2008, 2009

“I just think adding guys that have been there, that know the game, (that) we don’t necessarily have to wait on, is key for us, and I think that makes them a better group than we had last year.”

For his part, West has similarly high expectations for himself.

Although he turned 33 last month, the 6-foot-9, 250-pound enforcer shows no signs of wear. The Pacers’ undisputed emotional leader, he’s one of their most productive all-around players. He averaged 17.1 points and 7.7 rebounds per game last season in addition to shooting nearly 50 percent from the field and 76 percent from the free-throw line.

In preparation for his 11th NBA season, the two-time All-Star spent the offseason preparing his mind, as well as his body, for the rigors of an 82-game regular-season and, if all goes as planned, an extended postseason.

“I just try to keep my legs as strong as possible. I haven’t changed my routine, at all,” West said. “I just try to get away from the NBA bubble and get back to reality a little bit. It always gives me a clear head. I’m able to come back fresh, mentally sharp and ready to attack this thing.

“Obviously, you get a year older, you get an extra year of maturity, an extra year of focus. That’s how I look at it.”

When West looks at the Pacers in totality, he sees an extraordinarily determined, close-knit team being trumpeted, even by national media outlets, as viable championship contenders. He doesn’t disagree with the appraisal, which is why he rejected free-agent overtures and signed a two-year extension during the offseason.

He wasn’t about to cast his lot elsewhere.

“You get close to guys, and I thought this team has taken some tremendous steps in the last few years. I just wanted be a part of that,” West said. “At this stage of my career, it’s about competing as late into the the spring and summer as possible. The opportunity to do that was best here. That was clear. It’s not about money or anything like that. We’ve got to win. I want to win.

“I want to be a part of a good situation, a good opportunity, a good group of guys, guys that wake up in the morning with the mindset to do the right thing. I think that’s crucially important in terms of the NBA locker room, especially at this stage of my career.”

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