Practice: Indiana Preparing for Final Stretch in Good Health

March 10, 2018 - Before traveling to Boston to face the Celtics, Pacers head coach Nate McMillan and players Lance Stephenson and Thaddeus Young talked to the media about having a fully healthy roster for a difficult final stretch of games.

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Practice: Indiana Preparing for Final Stretch in Good Health

March 10, 2018 - Before traveling to Boston to face the Celtics, Pacers head coach Nate McMillan and players Lance Stephenson and Thaddeus Young talked to the media about having a fully healthy roster for a difficult final stretch of games.
Mar 10, 2018  |  02:01

Pacers Hit the Road with Depth, Health

by Mark Montieth Writer

The game plan for the Pacers is simple heading into the final 16 games of their regular season.

"Just take it one game at a time and not get too caught up in the overall picture," Darren Collison says.

Yeah, but that overall picture is difficult to ignore. The Pacers will play 10 of their remaining games on the road, and will have more than one day off between games only once – and that will come in California during a four-game Western swing. 12 of their opponents are at the very least in serious contention for postseason participation and none of the remaining four (the Lakers, Sacramento and Charlotte, who they play twice) have given up on the season.

In short, it's the most difficult closing schedule in the Eastern Conference, statistically, and poses a major challenge to their ambition of landing homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs. They are tied with Washington in fourth place heading into Sunday's game at Boston, just one-half back of Cleveland in third, but the road to the finish line will run uphill most of the way.

That bad news is offset in part by the good news glowing from the team's injury report – which has no news to report. The Pacers, for the first time all season, don't have a player listed as even questionable for the next game now that Collison has returned.

They've also filled out their roster with veteran Trevor Booker, giving them a solid core of backups at each position. Coach Nate McMillan plans to go with a 10-man rotation, as he did in Friday's victory over Atlanta, as often as possible, which can be a mixed blessing. Depth is a good thing, but it can limit playing time for some players accustomed to heavy doses of it and threatens on-court chemistry if it limits the time units play together.

PLAYOFF PICTURE: Track the Pacers' Playoff Push »

Thad Young for example, played just 23 minutes against the Hawks, nine below his average. Lance Stephenson played 16 minutes, 11 below his average. McMillan's curiosity about playing Collison, Cory Joseph and Victor Oladipo together, which he did for the final three minutes of the first half, could further impact Stephenson.

He doesn't sound worried about it, though.

"It ain't about the minutes; it's to help our team, to help everybody get their confidence," Stephenson said. "You never know, somebody might go down. There's really no sacrifice, it's just helping each other."

McMillan began addressing the issue of shared playing time in training camp. Injuries have created opportunities for various players at various times, but the issue is back in the forefront – fortunately –heading toward the playoffs.

"Guys are going to have to sacrifice," McMillan said. "That's just part of it. With more depth we shouldn't have to pace ourselves. We can go out and try to get after teams. But even the guys who are coming back have to make sacrifices."

That includes Collison, who could be back in the starting lineup as early as Tuesday's game in Philadelphia. Although pain-free for the first time all season, he might not regain his normal minutes load of 30 minutes the rest of the season.

"We have a 10-man rotation," he said. "Guys are going to have to accept it. It's not a team where guys are going to get 40 minutes every night, with the exception of Vic. Everybody else is going to split time. It's not necessarily a bad thing, it's going to give us more depth going into the playoffs."

That could prove to be one of the Pacers' major assets, for as long as their injury report can remain vacant. Plenty of other teams in the league would take it. Toronto, which leads the East, is for now without OG Anunoby and Delon Wright. Boston is without Gordon Hayward and Jaylen Brown. Cleveland is without Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson. Washington is without John Wall.

Most other teams would take the Pacers' depth, too. The second unit, once Joseph returns to it, will consist of five players with extensive starting experience. Stephenson, Glenn Robinson III, Trevor Booker and Domantas Sabonis fill it out. Even the third unit includes capable players in Al Jefferson, Joe Young and TJ Leaf, all of whom have made significant contributions at various points this season.

"Coming in with the second unit, our job is to take care of what the first unit was doing, or (play) even better," Stephenson said. "With all our guys healthy, we feel unstoppable."

Stephenson in fact, claims the second unit outperforms the starters in practice.

"We always kill them," he said. "Ask the coaches."

Why does that happen?

"We're better than them," Stephenson said, smiling.

Shooting For Record Books

Collison is tantalizing close to becoming a member of the exclusive and esteemed 50-40-90 club. But he'd rather not talk about it.

The club includes players who have shot 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from the 3-point line and 90 percent from the free throw line over the course of an NBA season. It's been accomplished just 11 times in league history, by seven players: Larry Bird, Mark Price, Reggie Miller, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Durant and Steph Curry. Miller, the only Pacer on the list, did it in the 1993-94 season.

Collison is shooting .499 from the field, .439 from the 3-point line and .890 from the foul line. The free throw percentage might be the most difficult to obtain. At this point he'll need to hit his next 12 attempts to get to 90 percent without rounding up.

It's not a favored topic of conversation for him.

"I'm really trying to forget about that," he said. "It's difficult. I don't think you can do it.

"Seems like everywhere you go that's something they mention, or people text me about it. I do not want to think about it. I just want to go out there and play my game. if it happens it happens. If it doesn't, so what? I think the team success is definitely more impressive to me."

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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.