Sabonis Feels Great, Looks to Remain Effective
Predicting what the Pacers’ version of NBA basketball will look like when their regular season resumes in Orlando on Aug. 1 is a fool’s errand, but the safest prediction is this:
Health permitting, Domantas Sabonis will be in the thick of whatever happens.
Sabonis, sporting a shaggy pandemic beard and hair, told media members via a Zoom call on Thursday he doesn’t believe the starters will be able to go the usual 35 or so minutes per game because of the quick ramp-up to re-entry following the 3 ½-month layoff.
“I feel like everyone is going to have their minutes,” he said.
Coach Nate McMillan, however, had already made it clear he plans to extract every minute he can from his All-Star center. One of the affirmations that came out of McMillan’s video study during the layoff was that Sabonis had been particularly effective when playing with the reserves. Not that he hadn’t played well with the starters as well, but his role in the offense was enhanced with the backups.
“I really like Domas with that second unit,” McMillan said on Wednesday. “Part of the rotation I want to go with is getting Domas out and then getting him back in with that second unit.”
Sabonis was averaging 18.5 points on 54 percent shooting and 12.4 rebounds when the season was postponed, and the Pacers had just won eight of their previous 11 games. They’ll have three weeks of workouts and three exhibition scrimmages to try to recapture that momentum when full-scale practices begin in Orlando on July 11. Sabonis, who is far and away the team’s best rebounder, two-tenths of a point shy of being its leading scorer and tied for second on the team in assists, obviously will be vital to that effort.
He said the enhanced risk of injury because of the accelerated preparations for the season’s resumption is the “scary part” of what lies ahead but added, “We have a job and we have to perform at our highest level.”
Sabonis retreated to his home in Los Angeles when the season was postponed and was able to get into a private gymnasium after about a month. He participated in some light five-on-five fullcourt scrimmages for conditioning and, on the advice of his legendary father, Arvydas, worked on his mid-range and three-point shooting.
“I feel great,” he said.
“I’ve been trying to stay in shape,” he said. “The main thing is being mentally focused and prepared and (regaining confidence).”
He could have an easier time adapting to the quarantine rules in Orlando than most players because of his experience in international competition, including the 2016 Olympics. Being sequestered in a hotel shouldn’t be much different than living within the restrictions of an Olympic village or other tournament facility.
“It definitely has that kind of feel,” he said. “I’m used to it. I’ve been in that (environment) many times. Growing up, all the European and world championships, it was the same thing. You’re in one area and you’re in lockdown.”
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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.
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