When the 2019-20 season was suspended, the Indiana Pacers were playing quality basketball. Nate McMillan’s team won 8 of its last 11 games in February and March but, as the NBA restart approaches in Orlando, the Pacers are usually omitted from conversations about legitimate contenders in the Eastern Conference.
Some of that undoubtedly stems from injury uncertainty surrounding Victor Oladipo, with the All-Star shooting guard’s situation at least slightly uncertain in Orlando. Oladipo is participating in scrimmages, but the team’s offensive focal point is still recovering from injury with a potential contract extension looming. From there, 2020 All-Star big man Domantas Sabonis suffered a foot injury that pushed him out of the bubble for treatment and, with Jeremy Lamb already out as he recovers from a long-term ailment, the Pacers are dinged up as the seeding games arrive.
Still, this is an interesting team to monitor and, if nothing else, the Pacers have a chance to compete for a top-four seed, even with a two-game deficit to the Miami Heat for the No. 4 spot in the conference.
Brian Bowen II
Jeremy Lamb (injured)
Victor Oladipo (status uncertain)
Domantas Sabonis (injured)
Saturday, Aug. 1 – 7:00 pm ET – vs. Philadelphia 76ers
Monday, Aug. 3 – 4:00 pm ET – vs. Washington Wizards
Tuesday, Aug. 4 – 6:00 pm ET – vs. Orlando Magic
Thursday, Aug. 6 – 4:00 pm ET – vs. Phoenix Suns
Saturday, Aug. 8 – 6:00 pm ET – vs. Los Angeles Lakers
Monday, Aug. 10 – 8:00 pm ET – vs. Miami Heat
Wednesday, Aug. 12 – 4:00 pm ET – vs. Houston Rockets
Friday, Aug. 14 – TBD – vs. Miami Heat
1. Milwaukee Bucks: 53-12
2. Toronto Raptors: 46-18 (6.5)
3. Boston Celtics: 43-21 (9.5)
4. Miami Heat: 41-24 (12.0)
5. Indiana Pacers: 39-26 (14.0)
6. Philadelphia 76ers: 39-26 (14.0)
7. Brooklyn Nets: 30-34 (22.5)
8. Orlando Magic: 30-35 (23.0)
9. Washington Wizards: 24-40 (28.5)
WHAT DOES SUCCESS LOOK LIKE?
Prior to the uncertainty surrounding Oladipo and Sabonis, the Pacers firmly had their eyes on a first-round series victory. Candidly, Indiana wasn’t likely to be favored in a series against the Celtics, Heat or 76ers, but the Pacers bring a lot to the table and played as the equivalent of a 49-win team for a reason. If Sabonis is unable to play, Indiana goes from frisky and dangerous to potentially a more optimal target for top teams, but this is still a team with roster talent and they are firmly a cut above the likes of Orlando, Brooklyn and Washington. With Sabonis and Oladipo, expectations would be different but, if one or both don’t play, being competitive would be a reasonable outcome.
With Sabonis seemingly likely to miss at least part of the team’s processional, the Pacers really need Myles Turner to be his best self. The 24-year-old center is appealing for his combination of floor spacing and rim protection, but Turner was seemingly surpassed by Sabonis in Indiana’s pecking order this season. Furthermore, the Pacers may have to make a decision between the two, acknowledging that both are likely better at center. If Sabonis is gone, Turner is the team’s best big man by far. If Sabonis plays, the big men playing well together in a high-level environment might answer some big-picture questions for the organization.
BIGGEST ON-COURT QUESTION
Can the Pacers score consistently in a playoff environment? Indiana finished the pre-hiatus schedule with the NBA’s 17th-best offense. That isn’t a damning figure, per se, but the Pacers weren’t exactly explosive on a nightly basis. Defensively, Indiana was quite good, ranking No. 7 in the league on a per-possession basis, but there are questions about the team’s ability to score enough when things slow down. Oladipo’s performance in the team’s early scrimmage has quieted some chatter, simply because he is the team’s best offensive creator by a considerable margin. Still, Sabonis acted as a fulcrum on the interior this season and, if either or both is limited or out, Indiana will need to heavily rely on Malcolm Brogdon and T.J. Warren to generate enough offense to survive.