Fondness for Oladipo Grows with Each Loss

If this keeps up much longer, selection to the Eastern Conference All-Star team isn't going to be sufficient recognition for all that Victor Oladipo has meant to the Pacers. Maybe he's the league's Most Valuable Player honors, given the way they've struggled without him.

Oladipo missed Monday's game with Washington because of an undisclosed illness, and the result was familiar. The Pacers played from behind throughout the game, leading by a point for just one minute in the second quarter, trailing by as many as 17 in the third, and losing 111-102. They're now 0-6 without Oladipo, outscored by an average of more than 12 points in those games.

Any team would struggle without its leading scorer and emotional leader, but Oladipo's absence doesn't explain all of the Pacers' ills in this game. They were outrebounded, defended poorly, allowed 30 points off their 15 turnovers and failed to mount a coherent offense.

"They didn't win this game, we lost this game with too many turnovers and easy shots for them," said Bojan Bogdanovic, who scored a game-high 29 points and was the only Pacers starter to play well.

The Pacers also were without starting point guard Darren Collison, who will have arthroscopic surgery Tuesday on the left knee that's troubled him sporadically throughout the season. Although they had won the previous two games in which Collison did not play, the impact of a sidelined starting backcourt was too much to overcome amid the shortcomings of the other starters.

Cory Joseph and Lance Stephenson, who normally play together off the bench, were paired in the starting lineup without success. Joseph, a 40 percent 3-point shooter for most of the season, missed all three of his attempts and has now hit just 6-of-28 over the past 11 games. Stephenson, who generally had played well as a starter in the games Oladipo missed, hit just 4-of-14 shots and 1-of-7 3-pointers and committed six turnovers while often forcing the action.

Thaddeus Young hit just 3-of-10 shots, continuing his shooting slump. He's hit just 4-of-21 3-point shots over the past 11 games, and 2-of-9 free throws over the previous six.

Myles Turner, the best candidate to soften the blow of the loss of Oladipo and Collison, was limited to 22 1/2 minutes by foul trouble and finished with just six points and five rebounds. He's hit 2-of-10 shots in the past two games, with as many fouls (8) as rebounds.

"Tonight, we weren't ourselves, and I think it showed," he said.

The Pacers' offense was a slog all evening, often breaking down into one-on-one play, but Pacers coach Nate McMillan wasn't buying the absence of his guards as an explanation for the lack of chemistry. Whenever they made the hint of a run and perked up the fans, they found a way to self-destruct. Stephenson, normally a fourth quarter phenom, was as guilty as anyone, hitting 1-of-5 shots in the final period and committing a turnover when he forced a pass into the lane.

"No execution," McMillan said. "We're in February here. Chemistry is supposed to be there regardless of who's on the floor."

Collison will be out two to three weeks. If he was going to have to have surgery, this is as good a time as any with the upcoming All-Star break. He could be back when the season resumes on Feb. 23. Oladipo's illness, meanwhile, isn't believed to be serious, and he could be back as early as Wednesday's game at New Orleans.

McMillan then will have to decide whether to adjust the starting lineup. Joe Young was the best guard in Monday's game, scoring 17 points and hitting 5-of-8 3-pointers. He had no assists, but also no turnovers. Domantas Sabonis (15 points) and Al Jefferson (eight points) also played well, and in fact were the only Pacers to finish with positive plus-minus numbers.

Glenn Robinson III also grows larger in the shadows. He's played in two games for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants in the G League and scrimmaged with the Mad Ants at the St. Vincent Center practice facility on Monday afternoon. He also worked out before the game, but no return date has been announced for him.

For now, with just four games remaining before the All-Star break — three of them on the road — the only return that matters belongs to Oladipo. With him, the Pacers have gone 30-19, a 61 percent winning rate that would have them third in the Eastern Conference. Without him, their record speaks for itself, and speaks volumes.

"Vic has created a lot of things for us," McMillan said.

Including a lot of problems when he's gone.

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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.

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