Sabonis Listed as Questionable for Sunday

March 9, 2019 - Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis practiced with the team on Saturday and is questionable for Indiana's matchup with the 76ers on Sunday afternoon.

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Sabonis Listed as Questionable for Sunday

March 9, 2019 - Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis practiced with the team on Saturday and is questionable for Indiana's matchup with the 76ers on Sunday afternoon.
Mar 9, 2019  |  01:49

Sabonis Could Make Timely Return

by Mark Montieth
Pacers.com Writer
@MarkMontieth

Domantas Sabonis returning to the Pacers' lineup wouldn't solve all of the issues that have troubled them recently, but it's an awfully good place to start.

Sabonis was a full participant in Saturday's practice at St. Vincent Center and is listed as questionable for Sunday's game in Philadelphia. While coach Nate McMillan said "he looked fine to me," a final evaluation will be made an hour or so before the 3:30 p.m. tipoff.

To say the Pacers want him and need him back is no less an understatement than to say Indy residents are desirous of warmer weather. An average rebounding team even with their best rebounder, they have been blatantly poor without him in the five games since he sprained his left ankle in the fourth quarter of the loss at Detroit on Feb. 25. Since then they have controlled the boards against just one opponent, Chicago, by one rebound, and won two-of-five games.

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Sabonis stayed behind when the Pacers flew to Milwaukee for Thursday's game to continue the rehab process of ice, stretching and other treatments with a member of the Pacers' training staff. He also reported to St. Vincent center on Friday, when the rest of the team had the day off, and got through Saturday's fullcourt work without a problem.

The time off has at least enabled other nagging injuries to heal and given him a break from the drudgery of the late season.

"I feel better," he said. "Maybe mentally more refreshed. Just excited to get back."

The Pacers would be excited to have him, given the significance of Sunday's game. They are one game ahead of Philadelphia in third place in the Eastern Conference and a victory likely would give them control of the tiebreaker should the two teams finish the season with the same record.

The Sixers have lost three of their four previous games, including a 16-point loss at Houston on Friday, but are optimistic about the return of All-Star center Joel Embiid, who has missed the previous eight games with a sore knee. Embiid finished with 40 points and 21 rebounds the last time the Pacers played in Philadelphia, so, yes, it would be that much nicer to have Sabonis available for this one.

Not so nice that the focus will shift from the bigger picture, however.

"We want him back, but we don't want him to come back if he's not ready to go and you risk coming out and re-aggravating or tweaking it," McMillan said. "We know he's not going to get to 100 percent but we want him to feel comfortable coming back. We certainly know that we need him."

Domantas Sabonis

Photo Credit: NBAE/Getty Images

Sabonis won't apply a bandage to everything hurting the Pacers, though. Their defense has slipped – partially because of the rebounding deficiency that has created second-chance opportunities for opponents – and the ball movement has been inconsistent.

That was particularly true in Thursday's 19-point loss in Milwaukee, when the Pacers – who shoot fewer 3-pointers than all but one NBA team - launched 37 of them, 12 more than their average. That was partially a reflection of how the Bucks defended them, as Myles Turner attempted a career-high 11 3-pointers, but also of their own impatience.

Thus, McMillan's emphasis Saturday on "getting the ball moving, playing your third or fourth options, forcing that defense to guard you. If you have an open look early, we're OK with that. But taking quick, contested shots early in the shot clock that's not how we want to play."

A case in point would be the start of the second half in Milwaukee. Wesley Matthews opened with a 20-footer on what appeared to be a called play, and followed with a 26-foot 3-pointer that put the Pacers ahead by one. But that was followed by an even longer 3-point attempt on the next possession that missed, then Turner's missed 3-pointer, Turner's missed 18-footer and Thaddeus Young's turnover.

The Pacers trailed by 12 points at the end of the period, and never threatened in the fourth. They weren't entirely selfish, finishing with 26 assists on 35 made field goals, but their guard play was lacking. Matthews, Darren Collison, Cory Joseph and Tyreke Evans combined to hit just 8-of-31 shots.

With Matthews' limited experience in the offense and lineup changes forced by injuries, McMillan finds himself having to remind players what qualifies as a good shot.

"A contested shot is not OK," he said. "A quick shot that's not contested is OK. If you're open, shoot it. But a quick contested shot that we can get with five seconds on the (shot) clock is not the shot we want with 20 seconds on the clock. If you don't have anything early, play late.

"Normally against even the better defensive teams in the league, if you're getting that ball moved from side to side, if you're getting to your third and fourth option, you're normally going to get a pretty decent shot. If it's contested, then OK. But make the defense work by being a little bit more patient."

The Pacers, meanwhile, have waited semi-patiently for Sabonis to return. Even a little bit more of him on Sunday would help, too.


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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 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.