Pacers Staying Together Despite Losing Streak

Feb. 11, 2020 - Despite being mired in a six-game losing streak, Pacers head coach Nate McMillan and guards T.J. McConnell and Victor Oladipo said the team is sticking together and trying to maintain a positive mindset.

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Pacers Staying Together Despite Losing Streak

Feb. 11, 2020 - Despite being mired in a six-game losing streak, Pacers head coach Nate McMillan and guards T.J. McConnell and Victor Oladipo said the team is sticking together and trying to maintain a positive mindset.
Feb 11, 2020  |  02:56

Pacers Looking to Regain Rhythm

by Mark Montieth Writer

Historically, a six-game losing streak isn't all that unusual in the bigger picture of an NBA season. It would be difficult to find the veteran player or coach who hasn't endured much worse.

T.J. McConnell began his NBA career in the 2015-16 season with an 18-game losing streak. He remembers it as 19, but who's counting once the defeats venture into double figures? That processed team in Philadelphia also had two losing streaks of 12 games and another of 13.

Nate McMillan, as a rookie with Seattle in the 1986-87 season, played through a six-game losing streak in which four of the losses came by a double-figure margin, including a 17-point loss to the Pacers at Market Square Arena. The following season the SuperSonics lost nine out of 10 games through one stretch that included losses of 22 and 16 points.

The Pacers team that Bob "Slick" Leonard coached in the 1974-75 season started 4-11 and later lost eight of nine games in a December-January stretch to fall to 14-21. One of those losses was a 35-point defeat in San Antonio on New Year's Eve. Leonard closed the locker room to the media afterward and kept his players inside for a long, and likely loud, lecture.

Losing streaks don't necessarily lead to losing seasons, though.

The 1974-75 Pacers team wound up winning 45 games and captured dramatic playoff series victories over San Antonio and Denver before losing to Kentucky in the ABA Finals. The Seattle team of McMillan's rookie season went on to reach the Western Conference Finals, and the one that dropped nine of 10 the following season made the playoffs.

The same can't be said for the Philadelphia team of McConnell's rookie season, but that group wasn't put together for the purpose of winning games. Still, it maintained its spirit.

"It started with (coach Brett Brown)," McConnell recalled Tuesday following the Pacers' practice at St. Vincent Center. "He kept the locker room together. He kept it upbeat."

Such is the challenge for the Pacers as they try to end the losing streak that reached six games with Monday's one-point loss to Brooklyn, and is threatened with an extension by Wednesday's opponent, Milwaukee, owner of the NBA's best record.

The way out of this maddening stretch begins with sticking together, and proceeds with execution and effort. The Pacers' locker room or practice court shows no signs of splintering, so the rest will hinge on whether they can produce on the court. In that regard, this team reminds McConnell of his rookie season when the 76ers won 10 games.

"We are a very tight-knit group," he said. "I can assure you nobody is pointing fingers. All we can do is come in every day and get better, correct what we didn't do and make that one play down the stretch.

"Nate's certainly doing (what Brown did). It helps when you've got good guys in the locker room worrying about getting better and a bunch of good character guys. That's what we had there and that's certainly what we have here."

The Pacers' losing streak, tied for their longest since 2015, is mostly the result of failing to close out close games, but the reasons for that are many. Missed shots. Questionable shot selection.

Defensive communication. Great individual plays by opponents. You name it, it's probably in the mix somewhere.

McMillan has shown the videos and made his speeches throughout the dry spell that began after Victor Oladipo's stunning overtime-forcing shot in the victory over Chicago on Jan. 29. There's little left that can be said — except, perhaps, what he told his players at the end of Tuesday's workout.

"What I told the team today, all of us, including the coaches, we've lost a little rhythm here," he said. "The only way to get it back is to continue to work. Coaches get in a rhythm as players do. With all the changes we've had throughout the season, you can lose your rhythm. I think we have as a team lost our rhythm.

"We have to stay together, communicate about it and find a way to get it back. That's where we are. It's going to take all of us staying together."

McMillan and the players are careful not to point a collective finger at Oladipo, whose return has forced a series of adjustments in the starting lineup, the rotation and roles. Oladipo has struggled with his shot, hitting 29.5 percent of his field goal attempts, including 23.1 percent of his 3-point shots, and missed an open 3-pointer on Monday that could have given the Pacers a five-point lead with 37.3 seconds remaining. But he has moved well, defended well, and gradually blended with his new teammates.

He started for the first time with the other intended starters against the Nets, and that group performed reasonably well together early on. The ball moved, nobody forced shots and every one but Malcolm Brogdon scored at least five points in his first-quarter shift.

Oladipo becoming the player who was voted to the All-Star Game each of the past two seasons obviously will make a difference.

"I feel like I'm getting better every game," he said. "Eventually it will click."

Oladipo was in a subdued mood on Tuesday, although he was relaxed and smiling while shooting with teammates. He has yet to return to the ebullient, loud, joking, music-playing player who lit up the locker room in previous seasons. He also has been hesitant to exert himself as a leader, having been stuck with spectator's status for the first 48 games of the season.

"I've been trying to do a little more," he said. "I wasn't playing at the beginning of the year so it was kind of hard. It's kind of hard to listen to a guy who's not really out there. Now I'm trying to be a little more vocal and let my voice be heard and get into the swing of things. I'm getting more and more comfortable every game."

While the reasons for the Pacers' losing streak can be broken down into fragments and analyzed under a microscope, the major factor has been, quite simply, 3-point shooting. They hit 45 percent of their 3-pointers on their five-game Western Conference road trip preceding the victory over Chicago, and that included a game in Utah when they hit just 7-of-26 attempts. In the seven games since then, including the victory over Chicago, they have hit 28 just percent. They were outscored behind the arc by 15 points by Brooklyn, by 18 points by New Orleans on Saturday, by 21 points by Toronto on Friday, and by 33 points by Dallas the previous Monday.

Those differentials are difficult to make up, particularly when you're getting outrebounded and not getting to the foul line often enough. A team can only shoot so well from two-point range.

And a coach can't just tell his team to shoot more accurately and have it accomplished. So, McMillan has settled for more general expectations.

"I've told them, 'Look at yourself and what you can do to help the situation and go out and do it,'" he said. "'You have to stay together. You have to continue to believe you can get this done. And go out and work to do that."

No Vacation for Oladipo

Most NBA players find a warm place to go during the All-Star break. Oladipo will, too, but instead of a beach he plans to be in a gym somewhere, working out.

"Definitely," he said. "I had my offseason already, the first half of the year.

"Hopefully by (the end of the) All-Star break I'll be full throttle and ready to go."

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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

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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