The doors swung open to the practice gyms at St. Vincent Center, and there he was. Victor Oladipo, scrimmaging halfcourt, wearing a yellow jersey, as if he had never been away.
Oladipo has been practicing with the Pacers for about a week, but Thursday marked the first time he had done so before the watchful eyes and lenses of media members. While the viewing party wasn't long enough to lead to solid conclusions, he looked fit and fitting in.
Edmond Sumner, for one, gave a positive endorsement.
"Vic's looking good," Sumner said, smiling widely. "You wouldn't even think he's hurt. I'm telling you, he looks almost identical (to before his injury). Just as confident, doing the same things. Obviously, he's not out here dunking and stuff, but just as quick and fast. He looks good."
Neither Oladipo nor anyone else is offering a prediction of when he will return to game action. Wednesday's season-opening loss to Detroit served as a blatant reminder of his value to the Pacers, particularly on the defensive end where the quickness and anticipation of the 2018 All-Defensive first-team member was sorely missed.
Oladipo reiterated his plan to "take one day at a time" in his comeback from the ruptured quad tendon he suffered in January. He works with his own trainer in the mornings, practices with the Pacers, and does more individual work after practice. He offers no estimation of how close he might be to 100 percent, however.
"I wish I could," he said. "I'll know when I know. It's hard to gauge how far you are from that.
"You've got to be smart," he added. "I'm not trying to play (just) for this year, I'm trying to play for a long time in my career. I want to have a long, lasting, hopefully 15-more-years career. As bad as I want to play, I still have to be smart about it.”
We Need to Talk
Pacers coach Nate McMillan was looking forward to having a game video — a regular season game video — to dissect, and now he has one. He might not have liked a lot of what he saw in the 119-110 loss to the Pistons, but at least he has more information to work from than in the preseason.
He already was well aware of one of his team's primary challenges, but Wednesday's game, in which Detroit hit 53 percent of its field goal attempts, brought out the impact of it: lack of communication. With so many new faces, the players are still getting comfortable with one another on the court, and some of them are quiet by nature. That particularly applies to T. J. Warren and Jeremy Lamb among the starters, and Sumner, Aaron Holiday, and T.J. Leaf among the reserves.
"We have to communicate," McMillan said. "The best defensive teams, they talk. We were really quiet out there last night. We can't assume (anything) or read each other's minds. We have to communicate."
Warren is aware of his need to verbalize more. It's something his mentor, former Pacers forward David West, has brought up to him often. West was introverted by nature but was a talkative "linebacker" type of defender on the court, barking signals to teammates.
"Me and David, we go over that a lot — me getting out of my comfort zone and being a presence vocally," Warren said.
Communication will improve significantly when Oladipo, the most outgoing team member, returns. He took players aside during timeout huddles a few times on Wednesday and looks forward to being able to interject me when he's in uniform.
Players don't have to be in lecture mode during games, he said, but need to be able to talk with one another to build cohesion.
"Even though they're quiet, just being able to talk, period," he said. "like, 'Yo, you missed me on that play. Yo, make sure you make that rotation.' You don't have to yell it or be demonstrative, just let guys know you're there.
"You speed up (the gelling process) by talking — going out there and hearing each other's voice and not be so uncomfortable with criticizing each other, letting guys know you have their back, really. That's what builds chemistry and camaraderie."
Warren, who took a hard fall with 3:46 left in Wednesday's game, said he will play in Saturday's game at Cleveland following Thursday's practice, repeating a point he had made following Wednesday's game.
Warren lost his balance when his legs were taken out from him on a dunk attempt and fell face-first to the court. He was motionless for about a minute before he was helped off the court. He was diagnosed with a hip contusion but was a full participant in practice.
"A little sore," he said. "Nothing to worry about."
Warren was called for a charging foul on the play. Had he been able to convert the dunk, he would have tied the game at 105. The Pistons scored five straight points after that and never looked back.
McMillan said he seriously considered taking advantage of the new "coach's challenge" rule to try to have the call reversed — which would have occurred if the defender's feet were inside the restricted zone underneath the basket. He couldn't see the play well enough from the opposite end of the court, though, and wasn't able to get enough information from other observers. The in-house video feed did not show a replay on the overhead screen because of the league rule preventing plays in which an injury occurs from being shown.
Had he lost the challenge, McMillan would have lost a timeout.
"It looked like a charge from my angle," he said. "I had just used my timeout (with 4:38 remaining). I didn't want to go into the last three or four minutes with one timeout.
"Looking at it on tape, we probably would have lost it. It was really close."
Warren, who finished with 10 points on 5-of-12 shooting, was playing in his first regular season game since Jan. 22 while with Phoenix. He admitted to the possibility of being over-anxious in his Pacers debut.
"A lot of nerves," he said. "Glad to get that one out of the way and go on to the next one."
Rebounding Not OK
The Pacers' emphasis on becoming a better rebounding team ran into the roadblock of paint monster Andre Drummond. They were outrebounded by nine, with Drummond grabbing 23 by himself.
"We just got dominated; it was everybody," McMillan said. "Drummond was rebounding with two, there guys down there. That's on us as a team."
McMillan chose not to play rookie center Goga Bitadze, who had sat out until the final preseason game because of a sprained ankle.
"I think we have to be slow with him," McMillan said. "The other part was trying to get Domas (Sabonis) with that second group. Domas was really good for us last season with the second group. Goga being in that lineup, that's a very young lineup with guys who haven't played a lot of minutes on the floor."
Drummond played nearly 41 minutes, which forced McMillan to keep Turner and/or Sabonis on the court as long as possible.
Turner went 38:05 minutes and Sabonis 35:42, the second-longest appearance of his career.
McMillan prefers not to have them go that long on a consistent basis but will leave open the possibility.
"If we have to, we're going to do what we can to win the game," he said.
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Mark Montieth's book on the formation and groundbreaking seasons of the Pacers, "Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis," is available in bookstores throughout Indiana and on Amazon.com.
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