Victor Oladipo on Dunk Contest, Friendship with Zeller

February 2, 2018 - Pacers guard Victor Oladipo talked to the media at shootaround before Friday's game about his participation in the 2018 Verizon Slam Dunk Contest and his friendship with Hornets forward Cody Zeller.

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Victor Oladipo on Dunk Contest, Friendship with Zeller

February 2, 2018 - Pacers guard Victor Oladipo talked to the media at shootaround before Friday's game about his participation in the 2018 Verizon Slam Dunk Contest and his friendship with Hornets forward Cody Zeller.
Feb 2, 2018  |  02:30

Glenn Robinson III Discusses His Rehab Start with Mad Ants

February 2, 2018 - Pacers forward Glenn Robinson III talked to reporters at shootaround on Friday about his rehabilitation start with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants.
Feb 2, 2018  |  01:47

Pacers on Successful January, Burke Filling In

Feb. 1, 2018 - Darren Collison talked to reporters about Indiana's 10-win January, and Thaddeus Young and Dan Burke talked about the team's plan in Pacers head coach Nate McMillan's absence (personal reasons).
Feb 1, 2018  |  02:06

Burke Takes a Turn on the Hot Seat

by Mark Montieth Writer

Dan Burke is in his 29th season of professional basketball, and his 21st with the Pacers. He has been a loyal assistant on the staffs of five head coaches. He's never been a head coach for a game, other than in NBA Summer League competition.

That changes Friday, when Burke slides over a spot on the bench to sub for Nate McMillan in the Pacers' game at Charlotte. McMillan, who also missed Thursday's practice, is absent for personal reasons, but will return for Saturday's game against Philadelphia.

A head coach missing a game has rarely happened in the Pacers' recent history, although it seems to happen this time of year when it does. The results have been generally favorable.

Jim O'Brien missed a game against Toronto on Feb. 2, 2010 to attend his mother-in-law's funeral. Lester Conner took over but created some waves by instituting a few strategic changes such as moving Roy Hibbert closer to the basket and emphasizing an attacking, uptempo style preferred by the players. The Pacers scored what turned out to be a season-high 130 points in a 15-point victory amid their 32-50 season, but it didn't help Conner's career. O'Brien let him go after the season.

PHOTOS: Glenn Robinson III Makes Rehab Start with Mad Ants »

Isiah Thomas was suspended for two games for running onto the court during a game in Toronto on Jan. 31, 2003 when Morris Peterson and Al Harrington squared off, so assistant Brendan Malone filled in. The Pacers defeated Boston the next night back in Indianapolis, 109-100.

"I only need 800 more to get into the Hall of Fame," Malone joked afterward.

Three days later, the Pacers took the three-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers to the wire despite the absence of All-Star forward Ron Artest before losing, 97-94, in the final game before the All-Star break. The Pacers won their first three games after the break to improve to 37-15, but then collapsed for a variety of reasons and wound up losing in the first round of the playoffs. Thomas and his staff were let go the following summer.

Former coaches Larry Bird, Rick Carlisle, and Frank Vogel did not miss games while coaching the Pacers, although Burke said Vogel "coached a couple on his death bed."

Burke's stand-in opportunity figures to be drama-free.

The Pacers are in a good place, having won five of their last six games to go 10-5 in January and move within a half-game back of fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings. Burke, meanwhile, is the longest-tenured NBA assistant coach with the same team because he's a good soldier, void of ego and disruption. He plans to simply follow McMillan's blueprint and rely heavily on fellow assistants Popeye Jones and Bill Bayno, just as McMillan relies on his assistants.

It's also worth noting that Burke, while not closed to the possibility of becoming an NBA head coach, isn't focused on it. He doesn't see this as an audition.

"If it comes it comes," he said. "I've never approached it that way, and this isn't the time to talk about that.

"The way we're approaching this...first, it's an honor to have the opportunity, that they trust me. Nate's put his trust in all of us. We're going to try to step up for him. We'll do our best as a group. He's building a culture here and we're going to follow that plan. We have to get this win for Coach."

They also need to get it to nudge their road record - now 11-13 – closer to .500, not to mention building their win streak and maintaining their place amid playoff teams in the conference standings. The Pacers, who defeated Charlotte at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Monday, are just a half-game back of fourth but are entering a month in which they play six-of-10 games on the road. Any road victory would be welcomed with gratitude, no matter who's coaching.

For Burke, the team's defensive specialist, the primary challenge will be calling offensive sets and drawing up plays during timeouts, a task McMillan normally assumes.

"We'll try the first one," he said, smiling. "And then pass the clipboard to Popeye.

"It's got to be a group effort."

The players don't anticipate changes in the strategic approach to Friday's game, but do expect a change in atmosphere. Burke, who is famous for his blunt halftime television interviews with Fox Sports Indiana's Jeremiah Johnson, will bring a different personality to the task.

"Everything is business as usual," Thad Young said. "DB, though, is a bit crazier than Nate. We try not to step on his toes too much.

"DB is one of those guys who's real hard-nosed. He doesn't take the BS all the time. He's always about business. He doesn't joke as much as Coach does. DB is so locked in. Both are fun guys to be around (but) DB is a little more sarcastic all the time."

Whatever happens, it's only temporary.

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Mark Montieth's book, "Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis," covers the formation and early seasons of the franchise. It is available at retail outlets throughout Indiana and online at sources such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Indiana Pacers. All opinions expressed by Mark Montieth are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Indiana Pacers, their partners, or sponsors.