Pacers Regroup, Resolved to End Losing Streak
Practice was over and the customary hands-up closing huddle had been completed, but Myles Turner had something to say. He called back the teammates who had begun heading off to shoot to deliver a message — one he explained later to the media.
"These last four or five games, man, we've talked about doing some things better. We're trying to do it, but I just haven't seen the progress – myself included. I just had to let that be known."
Turner looked and sounded like a rededicated player on Tuesday, when the Pacers regathered for what was described as a practice with training camp-like intensity at St. Vincent Center. The four-game losing streak that closed 2017 is in the Pacers' rear-view mirror, but hardly forgotten as they prepare for Wednesday's game at Milwaukee.
Turner, who had a game he'd like to forget on New Year's Eve against Minnesota, took some low-post instruction from Al Jefferson after speaking to his huddled mass of teammates. Darren Collison stopped by for a few words as well. Later, talking with reporters, Turner gave more complete answers and stated them with more determination and eye contact.
"Our intensity is down from the beginning of the season," he said. "I'm not sure if it's effort or us being tired, but we've got to nip it in the bud.
"We started the season out as hunters, we're hunted right now. We've got to have that hunter mindset every game."
Turner went to work on turning the page toward a new year a couple of hours early Sunday. Following the Pacers' 107-90 loss to Minnesota — a game in which he scored one point on a technical foul shot, missed all five field goal attempts, and grabbed just two rebounds in an appearance shortened to 19 minutes by foul trouble — he and Lance Stephenson headed through the underground tunnel to the practice gym to put up shots.
Hundreds of them. Turner said he stayed the longest, until about 11 p.m., which would have been more than three hours. (Collison stopped by as well, to talk for a while.) Using the automatic ball return, Turner got up, by his estimation, 1,200 to 1,300 shots to work off the frustration.
"I was pretty upset after that game; it's just not how I play," he said. "Whenever I'm depressed or I'm not in a good (mindset), I come to the gym and just shoot. That's what I did that night. That game's behind me.
"Just trying to get it together. You can't sulk all night. It was a good night for me."
The Pacers will have to try to get it together without leading scorer Victor Oladipo for at least one more game. Oladipo, who has missed the past three games with a sore right knee, did not practice on Tuesday and will not play in Milwaukee. He was in St. Vincent Center on New Year's Day for treatment and to shoot, but has yet to go "live" with his teammates.
Coach Nate McMillan hopes that can happen on Thursday or Friday. Oladipo possibly could be available for Saturday's game with Chicago, but it's too early to determine. McMillan said Oladipo had been bothered by soreness for a while, but didn't say anything until after his season-low 13-point outing at Detroit on Dec. 26, which turned out to be the beginning of the losing streak. Indiana has averaged just 93.5 points during the past four games, after averaging 109.2 the previous 13 games of December.
The absence of the leading scorer obviously was going to severely impact the Pacers, but the myriad of ways it has been felt has surprised some of them. McMillan has noticed a loss of leadership, lack of ball movement and perimeter defense, and extreme shortage of transition points — just eight in the loss to Minnesota, for example.
Turner has noticed a shift in mood as well.
"A little bit of our spirit's down," he said. "We still have to step up and play well in his absence."
Following a day off on Monday, McMillan tried to give his team a jolt with a more strenuous practice on Tuesday. He had tried to nurse it through a busy November schedule with lighter workouts focused on halfcourt execution, but felt this was the time to ramp up the intensity and scrimmage fullcourt.
"Sometimes you lose a little sharpness, so the way to find that is to go out and go hard," he said. "We feel we need to do that. I thought we had a good, solid practice."
McMillan also left open the possibility of a lineup change, with Stephenson perhaps going back to the bench to restore size and energy to the second unit. All options are open for now, with the exception of the most important one: Oladipo's immediate return.
For at least one more game, the Pacers will have to find a way forward without him.
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