The Pacers' intended starting five played together for the first time ever in Orlando on Friday, and the results were predictable.
"We have some work to do with that group," coach Nate McMillan said following Saturday's practice at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The starters weren't necessarily the cause of the Pacers 114-106 loss to the Magic. Paul George, Thad Young, Myles Turner, Jeff Teague and Monta Ellis each played between 32 and 36 minutes, each scored between 14 and 17 points and each had a positive plus-minus rating. They also outscored Orlando's starters by 20 points, obviously helped by the fact they played 26 more combined minutes.
Their performance wasn't what it needs to be, however, and they have one more preseason game – Wednesday at Milwaukee – and another week's worth of practices to improve before opening the regular season on Oct. 26.
"We're still trying to figure this out," said Paul George, who returned to game action after sitting out the previous two exhibitions. "We'll get better."
The primary challenge for the starters will be learning to incorporate a center, Turner, who plays on the perimeter. With no traditional low-post player, the Pacers are trying to score in transition and then spread out in the halfcourt offense and attack the basket – usually with pick-and-rolls – if that fails. Turner or Young will post up on occasion, but not as automatically as the centers and power forwards of past seasons.
George is on board with the plan, but like everyone else is going through growing pains.
"We're learning," he said.
"It's unique to have five guys on the perimeter, and Myles likes to be on the perimeter. That's what we've got to figure out."
That's why McMillan devoted Saturday's session to efficiency in the halfcourt offense – being in the right place, having the proper spacing.
"I think we're getting to the pace we want to play," he said. "We can play faster and still be sharper."
The balance the starters showed in Orlando could be viewed as a positive or negative. Turner, the 20-year-old newcomer to his position, took 15 shots. George, by far the most accomplished player of the group, took 13. The uptempo offense should assure plenty of shots for Teague and Ellis as well, as they'll be the likeliest to score in transition.
That could be a major adjustment. Last season, George took a team-high 1,449 shots. Ellis was next at 1,021. George Hill was third at 739. George said before training camp began that he was encouraging Teague and Ellis to attack the basket in transition and would fill in where he could, but the question remains. Are the Pacers best served by balance, or their best player getting by far the most shots?
"That's what we have to figure out," George said. "We have an open offense, where every player is a playmaker and every player has the ability to make plays. It might be my shots are going to come down, because it's more of a free-flowing offense. That's part of what I have to figure out. Do I try to remain consistent with my shots (from last season) or go with the game flow."
Could he be happy with far fewer shots than last season?
"If we're winning," he said, allowing himself a chuckle. "If we're winning. I'm fine if we're winning."
McMillan acknowledged the impact of "heavy legs" in the Pacers' loss in Orlando. He has not tapered workouts for games as he will in the regular season as he tries to build conditioning and implement his system … In a change from previous seasons, on the advice of his training staff, McMillan frequently will have his team practice on the day after games and take the second day off – similar to what NFL teams do. The Pacers had a demanding but brief practice on Saturday and will be off on Sunday … C.J. Miles, who has played in only the first exhibition game, continues to sit out with a sore knee. McMillan said Miles has not practiced the past few days and probably won't play on Wednesday, but said the injury is not believed to be serious. Miles dressed and was on the court shooting after Saturday's workout.
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