The Indiana Pacers struggled mightily in the final stretch before the All-Star break, but the time off could give them the reset they very much needed.
NBA All-Star Weekend is a celebration of the league’s talent. From the Rising Stars game to the 3-Point and Dunk Contests to the main event, the three days are used as a showcase of skill, athleticism, and theatrics for fans. Indiana Pacers devotees even got to see their guy Domantas Sabonis take part in a few events.
For the nearly 400 players that don’t get an invite of some kind, it’s a well-needed break in the middle of a tiring season. Three months and some 50 games into the season, most rookies have started hitting the wall, veterans are feeling the grind, and coaches emerge on the hot seat. Eight to 10 days off can change the complexion of a team’s final stretch.
This break is by far the most important part for the Pacers. They limped into this year’s break, going 1-6 in February, and it’s likely there wasn’t a single playoff team that looked more longingly at the “VACATION” written on their calendar than Indiana. They needed some time away.
Players often take short trips to clear their minds and rest their bodies (Myles Turner did just that). Upon return, they should feel a revitalized focus. For Indiana, there are 27 games remaining. That is not a ton of time to make up ground in the playoff standings, but with only 3.5 games keeping them out of the home court half of the standings, upward movement is absolutely a possibility.
Sabonis spent the weekend around the best players in the league. Even with the limited practice time, he should be able to take away a few things from his peers. The rest of the roster had time to clear their minds of the recent run.
Coming back could give the finally healthy roster a fresh start. Now they can find a true rhythm and determine the best lineups for the home stretch.
Victor Oladipo has just 175 minutes to his name and only 13 of those minutes have come without Malcolm Brogdon by his side. Building their chemistry is extremely important for the Pacers future, but it will also be important to see how they can fair on their own. Staggering their minute more so each gets to run the offense gives Indiana the ability to have one of its best guards on the floor at all times (much like how the Rockets stagger the minutes of their two MVPs).
Along with how they stagger their guards, findings out the best five players to close games will be crucial in the coming weeks. Several of the games in February saw Turner closing out games on the bench while the Pacers went smaller. And several of those games ended in late meltdowns.
This isn’t to say playing Turner would have won Indiana those games, but multiple strong first halves followed by spot minutes late don’t make a ton of sense. He’s gaining more comfort in his offensive role and shooting the ball with more confidence. What better way to continue to build tenacity than by allowing him to finish games alongside Brogdon, Oladipo, Sabonis, and T.J. Warren?
That lineup can defend top-to-bottom and shoot top-to-bottom. Teams won’t be able to send doubles at anyone for fear of leaving a shooter open. Turner would ultimately be the only one unable to attack off a closeout, but his size would allow him to easily shoot over almost any opposition. He just needs to keep shooting without hesitation.
The tough transition of reinserting an All-Star is hopefully over and a brighter horizon should coming into view. Playoff positioning is still up in the air, but another rough patch could leave Indiana stuck facing up to four road games in each round of the postseason. The most recent rendition of the Pacers looked closer to a trainwreck than a contender, but the All-Star break was the perfect chance to hit reset.