Pacers' Focus is on Staying Together

Dec. 30, 2017 - Pacers head coach Nate McMillan and players Thad Young and Darren Collison discuss the need for the team to stick together through adversity.

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Pacers' Focus is on Staying Together

Dec. 30, 2017 - Pacers head coach Nate McMillan and players Thad Young and Darren Collison discuss the need for the team to stick together through adversity.
Dec 30, 2017  |  01:43

Shorthanded Pacers Still Searching for Answers

by Mark Montieth Writer

How do the Pacers miss Victor Oladipo?

Let Nate McMillan count the ways.

"Certainly, the tempo, his ability to get out in transition, and to rebound and get the tempo faster that way. What he has done early is stretch the defense. A lot of times he's forcing (double-teams) and it's just a matter of getting rid of the ball and finding the open man. He's opening up some things at the offensive end. Defensively, he's had games where he created steals, he's rebounded some balls, he's had a couple of amazing blocked shots that led to transition..."

In other words, just about every way?

"No question about that."

The Pacers have played without their leading scorer (24.9 points per game) and All-Star candidate for the past two games, and played with him in a compromised state for the one before that. It's purely not a coincidence they've lost all three of those games, and will be challenged to end that streak when they play Minnesota at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Sunday.

Oladipo did not participate in Saturday's brief workout at St. Vincent Center, delayed two hours by the team's late arrival in Indianapolis following Friday's loss in Chicago. He emerged from the training room, with ice packs taped to both knees, to join the huddle that ended the session, and is not expected to play against the Timberwolves.

They don't see the loss of their most complete player as a thorough explanation for their current slide, however. They've amplified his absence with plenty of shortcomings within their control, such as lack of patience on offense and lack of energy on defense.

"Every NBA team has been without its best player and still won games, so that's not an excuse," said Darren Collison, who scored 30 slack-elevating points in the loss to the Bulls.

McMillan's message to his players on Saturday was to "stay together." In other words, to maintain the confidence that enabled them to become one of the NBA's most surprising teams early in the season and to transfer that to games by moving the ball better on offense and helping one another more on defense.

"We've got to get back to having our togetherness on the court," Thaddeus Young said. "Right now, we're a little all over the place."

The lack of cohesion shows in some of the shot selection on offense, and the shots allowed on defense. The Bulls hit 18-of-39 3-pointers on Friday, and while they deserve a tip of the cap for many of them, it wasn't as if the defense couldn't have been better.

The Pacers, meanwhile, hit just 7-of-22 3-pointers, scoring 33 fewer points from behind the arc. Their lack of accuracy was an anomaly, because they rank as the NBA's best 3-point shooting team. More attempts would seem to be in order to take advantage of their marksmanship, as they've been outscored by 198 points on 3-point shots. But that will require better patience and movement in the halfcourt offense and more transition opportunities — which in turn require defensive stops and rebounds, which require improved aggression and execution of help defense.

"If we play together, we'll have more attempts at threes," Collison said.

The Pacers are winless without Oladipo, having lost a home game to Boston by 10 points, a home game to a 10-25 Dallas team by four points and a road game to a 12-22 Chicago team by 12 points. The 24-point loss to Detroit on Tuesday also can be included in that group, as Oladipo was clearly compromised while scoring a season-low 13 points.

Oladipo's status for Wednesday's game at Milwaukee is unknown, but regardless of when he returns McMillan believes the Pacers will be better for the struggle. Perhaps they had been blinded by their star player's shine, and overly dependent on it.

Adjusting to playing without him could bring rewards when he returns, if his teammates learn to step forward and fend for themselves better.

"It's good for us," McMillan said. "We're going to grow and get better with the absence of him. You'll get better with making reads and decisions, and gain confidence because you've gone through some rough times."

Still, he'll be welcomed back.

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