The Indiana Pacers will be without one All-Star and could be without another when they restart the NBA season inside the Disney Bubble outside of Orlando, Florida, on Saturday against the Philadelphia 76ers (7 p.m., Fox Sports Indiana).
All-Star forward Domantas Sabonis will be out at least two weeks getting treatment for plantar fasciitis on his foot. All-Star guard Victor Oladipo, meanwhile, remains uncertain on whether he will resume playing due to concerns about his surgically repaired right knee tendon.
Oladipo, who sat out a year from January 2019 to January 2020 with the injury, has taken part in all scrimmage games inside of the bubble and practiced Thursday and Friday. The former Indiana University standout initially announced earlier this month he wasn’t going to play the remainder of the season, then changed his mind and committed to practicing with the team to test his knee.
“We will let you know about Victor on Saturday,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan said.
With Sabonis out indefinitely, McMillan said the Pacers will play smaller and faster, with Myles Turner at center and T.J. Warren at power forward. In practice games, the Pacers have played a three-guard starting lineup with Oladipo, Malcom Brogdon and Aaron Holiday. McMillan said that starting lineup isn’t set in stone for Saturday’s reopener.
“That’s something we’ll talk about in the next day or two,” McMillan said. “We may be switching our lineups. That’s something we’ll talk about, and you will see who we go with.”
Regardless of who starts, McMillan would like to see the Pacers push the tempo to compensate for the loss of the 6-foot-11 Sabonis, who is the Pacers’ second-leading scorer (18.5 points per game) and leading rebounder (12.4 per game).
“If we go with Aaron, we’ve got Aaron, Victor and Malcolm who can attack the basket,” McMillan said. “We want to stretch the defense, (if) the defense doesn’t collapse, get to the rim. If they do, you kick it out and you shoot the 3 ball. It’s more of a spread and attack kind of approach, and hopefully we can rebound and be able to play a little faster.”
The Pacers went 2-1 in practice games, scoring more than 110 points twice. They took an average of 29.3 3-point attempts in the three practice contests.
“Some of those 3s were good 3s,” McMillan said. “I thought some of those 3s we settled too quickly. So, again, these will be reads that we will have to make and make better decisions out on the floor.”
At 39-26, Indiana is tied with the 76ers for the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. The Sixers will present an immediate test to Indiana’s smaller lineup with their size and physicality, led by 7-foot center Joel Embiid, 6-10 point-forward Ben Simmons and veteran 6-9 forward Al Horford.
“Very physical with Embiid, Horford, (forward Tobias) Harris, those guys, so it’s a team that we have to try to keep in front,” McMillan said. “We certainly have to rebound the basketball, as a team, gang rebound, and then offensively, make them defend us, try to speed up the tempo.”
Pacers swingman Justin Holiday said the team is ready for the challenge.
“Size doesn’t matter,” Holiday said. “We have to make sure we play together. I guess that’s the biggest thing for us right now, is to make sure that we play as a team, that each person puts the team first, that each person does their job. Whatever the job is when you get out there, do it the best you can, play together and then obviously get stops and find ways to stop people.”
Indiana will play eight games in a 13-day stretch from Saturday through Aug. 14th to finish the regular seasons. The Pacers, 4.5 games behind the third-seeded Boston Celtics, could climb as high as the third seed in the playoffs and as low as the sixth depending on how they perform the next two weeks. McMillan feels the Pacers have prepared as well as they could in their three weeks inside the bubble away from family and friends.
“There are definitely a lot of areas where we have to get better, but every team is in the same situation,” McMillan said. “We’re going up against Philadelphia, who we are tied with, big physical team, so we have to be ready for that.”