The green flag drops on Victor Oladipo's regular season on Friday. The same could be said for the entire Pacers team in fact, now that it's — finally — fully assembled and ready to run without restrictor plates.
The limit on Oladipo's playing time — to 24 minutes when he first returned seven games ago and then to 28 for the last two before the All-Star break — has been lifted. He can play as long as his heart and coach Nate McMillan's desire allows when the Pacers resume their season on Friday in New York against the Knicks.
So, the Pacers not only will have the full roster the front office assembled last summer, but they will have no obstacles other than themselves for as long as they can stay healthy. Which is a good thing for them, because they'll need all the positive circumstances they can get to achieve their preseason goal of a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference that will bring homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Wait, did we say top-four seed? Oladipo, being Oladipo, has aspirations well behind that.
"The goal here is to win a championship," he said Wednesday following the Pacers' first post-break workout at St. Vincent Center.
"That's my goal. I know that's this team's goal. Why even play if you're not trying to do that? You want to play for fun? You can play for fun in the rec league. Obviously, it's a fun game to play, but it's about winning. That's how you're defined, that's how you leave your legacy. I'm trying to leave mine for generations to come."
Ok, then. The first objective, however, has to be to get out of sixth place. The Pacers are 32-23, 3.5 games back of Miami in fourth. Fifth-place Philadelphia, 1.5 games back of the Heat, also stands in the way of opening a playoff series at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. McMillan warns, quite logically, that it's going to take time for Oladipo to regain his All-Star form and for him to achieve chemistry with his teammates.
But Oladipo, being Oladipo, isn't in the mood for patience. He missed 46 games last season, including the final 35, and then missed the first 47 this season while recovering from the torn quad muscle suffered on Jan. 23 last year. He hyped his patience during the rehab, making sure his body was ready to return to the NBA grind, but that was about preparing himself to play. Now that he's playing, and has had his personal seven-game sort-of preseason, he's anxious to get going.
He proved that over the break when he spent all but a day or two at St. Vincent Center working out. He said he went from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., focused on getting stronger, improving his cardio, shooting, and receiving treatment. He followed up by being the last player off the practice court on Wednesday.
Asked what was going through his mind during his break workouts, he said, simply, "Killing."
"Not literally," he added. "Being a killer."
The question now becomes how to go about slaying the competition, how to dominate as he did two seasons ago when he averaged 23.1 points and was a first-team all-defense selection. Oladipo has been a high-volume shooter in previous seasons but now is surrounded by more scoring weapons. The Pacers, in fact, are one of few NBA teams to feature five double-figure scorers in their starting lineup.
Domantas Sabonis (who was excused from Wednesday's practice) played in the All-Star Game on Sunday. T.J. Warren, the team's leading scorer (18.5) and Malcolm Brogdon (16.9) aren't far from being All-Star caliber players and Myles Turner (11.9) is capable of high-scoring games despite his role as a shot-blocker and defense-stretcher.
Oladipo had just seven field goal attempts in the Pacers' face-saving victory over Milwaukee before the break. That surely won't be the norm for him going forward but perhaps spoke to his willingness to redefine himself however necessary. He averaged 17.9 shots two seasons ago and 16.3 last season, more than Reggie Miller's peak season for attempts (15.7) in his 18-year career.
"I'm lucky not to have to do too much," he said. "My time is coming. I know when I have to take over. I'm smart. I'm a good player. I can read the game. I know when it's time for me to go get it and make something happen, and when it's time for me to make that extra pass or let somebody else take over the game. I'm just trying to get ready every day."
Added McMillan: "We understand there's only one ball and you have to sacrifice out there," McMillan said. "We'll slowly work into a rhythm with that first group."
Oladipo being elevated to playing typical starter's minutes, between 32 and 34 per game, should hasten that process. Ideally, it will enable him to improve his shooting touch, after hitting just 33 percent of his field goal attempts in his seven games before the break and find chemistry with his teammates.
"We have the weapons," he said, after being the last player off the practice court. "We have the talent to be very successful down the stretch and in the playoffs. But at the end of the day we have to do it. I can sit here and tell you a thousand times we've got the potential, but if you don't put that to use there's no point in me telling you. We've just got to figure it out and do it."
Have a question for Mark? Want it to be on Pacers.com? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and you could be featured in his next mailbag.
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.