Sabonis Still Out as Pacers Prepare for Bucks

March 6, 2019 - While center Domantas Sabonis won't travel to Milwaukee as he rehabs his sprained ankle, the rest of the Pacers discussed the challenges of facing a Bucks team with the NBA's best record.

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Sabonis Still Out as Pacers Prepare for Bucks

March 6, 2019 - While center Domantas Sabonis won't travel to Milwaukee as he rehabs his sprained ankle, the rest of the Pacers discussed the challenges of facing a Bucks team with the NBA's best record.
Mar 6, 2019  |  02:04

Pacers Believe They "Have Enough" for Uphill Road

by Mark Montieth
Pacers.com Writer
@MarkMontieth

All season long they have spoken of their resiliency, the ability to rise up to challenges regardless of the circumstances. And now, with 17 games left in the regular season, the need for resiliency has never been greater for the Pacers as they head into their season's most foreboding segment of games, one that has jumped out at them since their schedule was released last summer.

From Thursday's game in Milwaukee through their March 29 date in Boston they play 11 games. Ten of them will come against teams that currently have a winning record and eight of them will be played on the road.

"They're coming at your throats; we have to make sure we're ready," Thaddeus Young said in the locker room following Tuesday's victory over Chicago.

"We would like to sprinkle some other (losing) teams in there, but they're on the schedule, we have to play them, and we have to be ready. We're looking to go into peoples' houses and take games."

It won't be easy. Have a look:

Date Opponent Record
March 7 at Milwaukee 48-16
March 10 at Philadelphia 41-23
March 12 New York 13-51
March 14 Oklahoma City 39-25
March 16 at Denver 42-21
March 18 at Portland 39-25
March 19 at LA Clippers 37-29
March 21 at Golden State 44-20
March 24 Denver 42-21
March 27 at Oklahoma City 39-25
March 29 at Boston 39-26

Nate McMillan's mantra is to take one game at a time, to focus only on the next opponent. But even he allowed his players a long-distance perspective of the schedule when they returned from the All-Star break to illustrate the need to get down to business. He hasn't talked about it since. It hasn't been necessary.

"They know the schedule," he said.

PLAYOFF PICTURE: Track the Pacers' Playoff Push »

The Pacers had a seven-game post-break run against teams with losing records to warm up for the upcoming chapter, but wound up going 4-3. They won the first two, then lost Domantas Sabonis to a severely sprained ankle in the fourth quarter of the third game in Detroit and went on to lose three of their next four before Tuesday's win. They will be without Sabonis again on Thursday and his status for Sunday's game in Philadelphia hasn't been determined. He did some light work on the court following Wednesday's practice at St. Vincent Center, but has yet to participate in team drills. The Pacers will fly home from Milwaukee Thursday night and have two opportunities to practice before leaving for Philadelphia, so that presents an opportunity to slip back into the mix if his ankle is healthy enough.

Thaddeus Young

Photo Credit: NBAE/Getty Images

Ask McMillan and the players what area of play is most in need of improvement, the consensus answer is rebounding. The Pacers have been an average rebounding team even with Sabonis, who is by far their best individual rebounder, and have suffered mightily without him. They were outrebounded in all four games last week and barely edged the Bulls on Tuesday, 50-49.

Rebounding was the emphasis of the first training camp practice, and remains one today.

The solution is simple to identify, more difficult to execute.

"It's got to be by committee," Darren Collison said. "The guards have to help. Everybody has to do their part."

March 29 doesn't bring a conclusion to the Pacers' challenges. Their final seven games following that date might appear easier based on records, but contain plenty of hurdles.

Following the game in Boston they fly home into a back-to-back against improving Orlando, which defeated them at The Fieldhouse last Saturday and likely will be fighting for a playoff spot. That's followed by home-and-home games with Detroit, which defeated them on Feb. 25 and at 31-31 also figures into the playoff picture. That's followed by a home game with Boston and then a home game with Brooklyn, another .500 team. Only the final regular season game at Atlanta can be viewed as forgiving.

Bottom line: Of their next 16 games, 15 are against possible playoff participants.

Despite last week's losses, the Pacers aren't apologizing for their past or wringing hands over their future. They remain in third place in the Eastern Conference and their competitors for that position have challenges of their own. Philadelphia, a half-game back of the Pacers, has won seven of its previous 10 games but plays 11 of its final 18 on the road. Boston, three games back of the Pacers, recently lost seven of 10 games before winning by 35 points at Golden State on Tuesday. It plays 10 of its final 17 games on the road.

Besides, the Pacers are capable of presenting challenges of their own. Their upcoming schedule is difficult, but at 42-23 they qualify as a difficult opponent even without Victor Oladipo. They don't talk as if they're dreading their future.

"Tough month of March for us," Bojan Bogdanovic said. "But nobody believed we would be here. We're still here. We have enough to have great games in March."


Have a question for Mark? Want it to be on Pacers.com? Email him at askmontieth@gmail.com and you could be featured in his next mailbag.

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.

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.

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