Oladipo Shows Promise, But No Decision Yet on Status

The Pacers got back to game action following a 4 1/2-month layoff on Thursday in a setting unlike anything seen before in the NBA.

Their 91-88 victory over Portland at HP Field House in Orlando was a good thing, as far as exhibition game outcomes go, but the primary takeaway was that Victor Oladipo played and plans to continue playing.

For how much longer, he's not ready to say.

Oladipo's status has been a primary storyline for the Pacers since he stated earlier this month he would participate in the practices but not the games in Orlando. He later adjusted his stance to say he would try to play when the regular season resumes but has yet to make a definite commitment.

"We'll see," he said after scoring eight points on 3-of-10 shooting while playing 19 minutes and 9 seconds against the Trail Blazers. "I'll be reassessing after every game. Nothing definite. We'll see how my body responds after today. Hopefully I'm able to play on Sunday."

The Pacers will take Friday off, practice on Saturday, and play Dallas on Sunday at 4 p.m. Their final exhibition game will be played on Tuesday against San Antonio, and their regular season re-opener will come on Aug. 1 against Philadelphia.

It appears unlikely Oladipo's status for that game will be determined until sometime after the final exhibition.

"I'm just trying to find the flow and get my rhythm back," said Oladipo, who played in 13 games before the season was suspended after rehabilitating his torn quad tendon. "That will come. Overall, I'm reassessing my body and knee after every game and will go from there. Not look too far ahead.

"Today was really big just to make sure we get our conditioning up. It was just fun to be out there and compete. I felt pretty good."

The game had the look of a preseason opener with occasionally sloppy play, but not even that much atmosphere. No fans were allowed into the building and players and coaches were distanced from another in the assigned seating arrangements. Oladipo compared it to a college scrimmage against another school behind closed doors.

McMillan adjusted by watching the game from his seat, rather than standing as he normally does.

"I want our guys to make more calls out there," he said. "That building is pretty quiet, so the opponent can hear the calls. I wanted our guards to get the feel of calling more sets.

"Once the game started, you really didn't think about it."

McMillan platooned his team in roughly three seven-minute increments over the 40-minute game. He started Oladipo, Malcolm Brogdon, T.J. Warren, Alize Johnson, and JaKarr Sampson, then brought Justin and Aaron Holiday, T.J. McConnell, Doug McDermott, and TJ Leaf off the bench late in the first quarter. Edmond Sumner returned with the starters in the second quarter, replacing Johnson.

The Pacers trailed 15-9 when the first shift was made with 2:53 left in the first quarter. The reserves fell further behind, 20-9, before mounting a comeback with an uptempo attack that had Portland's lead down to five when the starters returned with about five minutes left in the second quarter.

Justin Holiday, who led the Pacers with 16 points, hit two 3-pointers shortly after entering the game as did his brother Aaron, who finished with 13. Doug McDermott also was relevant to the surge, scoring seven points from late in the first period until midway through the second.

The second half starting unit, which included Edmond Sumner instead of Johnson, opened the third quarter with a 9-0 run that turned a 45-43 halftime deficit into a 52-45 lead.

Another surge pushed the lead to 64-51 and the Pacers were unthreatened until McMillan cleared the bench and the Blazers were able to take advantage of four late turnovers to get within three points.

Malcolm Brogdon, who hit three 3-pointers early in the second half, finished with 11 points, as did T.J. Warren. They both played the same 19 minutes, 9 seconds as Oladipo.

With centers Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner, and Goga Bitadze sitting out with injuries, TJ Leaf had to man the middle for the second unit. He hit just 1-of-9 shots but grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds.

"This game was about our guys getting out there and working to condition themselves, play against a different opponent and get reconnected to each other on the defensive end of the floor, McMillan said.

It was most valuable of all for Oladipo, who will be in a constant mode of self-assessment before deciding whether to play on Aug. 1 and thereafter. Teammates have been complimenting his performance in the practices leading up to Thursday's exhibition, but he is withholding judgment.

"Everyone's praising me for being the best in practice because they remember what I looked like in January," he said, laughing.

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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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