New Orleans center Jonas Valanciunas lists Indiana center Domantas Sabonis as his closest friend playing on another NBA team, but a second meeting of the 2021-22 season between the Lithuania natives will not happen Monday, because two-time All-Star Sabonis is sidelined by an ankle injury. Key players out of action is an unfortunate theme of the interconference matchup between the Pacers and Pelicans (7 p.m., Bally Sports, 100.3 FM), who won’t have 2020 All-Star Brandon Ingram due to an ankle sprain.
Indiana rolled to a 111-94 home victory over New Orleans on Nov. 20, but the personnel on both sides has changed dramatically over the past two-plus months. For example, the Pelicans started Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Tomas Satoransky in the backcourt that night in Indianapolis. Four Pacers starters from Nov. 20, including Sabonis, have been out of the lineup lately.
“It’s a different roster right now and they are playing totally different basketball,” Valanciunas said of Indiana. “So we’ve got to execute our plan, stick together and be on the same page.”
Valanciunas went for 19 points and 13 rebounds at Indiana, while Sabonis produced 20 points, 10 boards and six assists. Valanciunas, who said he speaks to his fellow countryman frequently during the season, sees matchups against him in two ways.
“I look forward to playing against him,” Valanciunas said after Monday’s shootaround, seemingly alluding to their friendship. “(But) is it easy to play against him? No. I know him really well. He’s a great player, but unfortunately he’s hurt. But it’s about us. It’s not about who’s playing and who’s not (for the opponent). It should not bother us. We’ve got to go out and play our best basketball.”
Other notes from shootaround:
Valanciunas on the Pelicans having to play without Ingram: “He’s one of our main guys. It’s going to be tough, but it’s an opportunity for another guy to step up and do their thing.”
New Orleans is 16-20 when Ingram plays this season and 1-8 when he does not. The one victory was a Dec. 28 comeback of 20-plus points against Cleveland. …
The NBA was forced to shuffle the schedule for various teams due to a series of December postponements. As a result, New Orleans is set to play six games over the next nine days. By next Tuesday’s final buzzer in Detroit, the Pelicans will be up to 51 games played.
Valanciunas: “We have like three back-to-backs in a row, but it’s not an excuse. We’ve got to man up and play (them). We’re not looking for an excuse.”
INDIANA SCOUTING REPORT
Offensive efficiency rank: 15 (109.9)
Defensive efficiency rank: 21 (111.0)
Net rating: 20 (-1.0)
Pace: 23 (97.27)
Streak: Lost 1
Go-to guy: Indiana has been so ravaged by injuries lately that over the club’s last 10 games, only three Pacers have appeared in every contest, a group that includes Justin Holiday (12.9 ppg over that span), in-season pickup Lance Stephenson (9.9) and Oshae Brissett (6.9). Over the past five games, rookie guard Chris Duarte has been the most reliable Pacer in terms of being on the floor and producing offense, averaging 17.2 points on 49 percent shooting (39 percent on three-pointers).
On the rise: The 2021-22 NBA season has delivered unexpected opportunities for numerous pro players. Pacers point guard Keifer Sykes is one of the more unlikely stories, a 28-year-old rookie who was perhaps most well-known for scoring the winning basket at last summer’s The Basketball Tournament. Sykes has started eight of his 12 appearances for Indiana, including wins over top West teams Utah and Golden State.
PREVIOUS GAME STARTING LINEUPS
INDIANA (17-30, 13TH IN EAST)
Saturday loss at Phoenix
Keifer Sykes, Chris Duarte, Justin Holiday, Torrey Craig, Goga Bitadze
Notes: This group is 1-1, having upset Golden State on Thursday prior to the Saturday game against the defending Western Conference champions. … The Pacers have used 17 different starting lineups this season, with 14 different players starting at least once. Bitadze did not have a start under his belt all season prior to these two games. … Indiana is in a big hole in terms of trying to reach the East play-in tournament, six games behind No. 10 Washington (23-24).
NEW ORLEANS (17-28, 11TH IN WEST)
Thursday win at New York
Devonte’ Graham, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram, Herbert Jones, Jonas Valanciunas
Notes: This group is 11-7, but will not be intact Monday, because Ingram has been ruled out due to a right ankle sprain. Ingram exited Thursday’s game in the second half as a result of that injury. … New Orleans has used 11 different starting lineups this season. … The Pelicans recently moved ahead of Sacramento and San Antonio in the West standings. They are 2.5 games behind No. 10 Portland (20-26) for the final West play-in tournament spot.
FANDUEL KEYS TO THE GAME
With Ingram sidelined, the Pelicans have to compensate for the 22.4 points per game he produces. Third-leading scorer Graham (13.8 ppg) also may not play – he’s listed as questionable – making it imperative for everyone to chip in at the offensive end.
Rookies Jose Alvarado (four steals) and Jones (three steals) spearheaded an aggressive New Orleans defense Thursday that totaled 10 thefts in New York’s Madison Square Garden. The Pelicans held the Knicks to just 91 points and 38 percent shooting from the field.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Indiana has taken the “next man up” theme to a different level, essentially turning it into “next starting lineup up” while replacing numerous first-stringers. As a domino effect, the Pacers have needed to shuffle their second unit, including using players who otherwise would not have gotten a major opportunity to play. To a lesser degree, the same is true for the Pelicans. An Ingram DNP means changes to the frontcourt; if Graham also sits, other New Orleans guards will fill larger roles.