Pacers keeping the faith with return to practice on tap

Sam Amico

A lot of talk has already surrounded the scheduled return of the NBA season -- from the cornavirus pandemic to social justice to which players are opting out of playing.

While all of those things are important to the Indiana Pacers, they're mostly focused on the basketball.

"The main reason we're playing is because dudes want to win," guard/forward Justin Holiday said, via the Indianapolis Star. "If you get on that floor, regardless of what you're thinking before you get to that game, and someone hits you in the mouth you're not going to back down."

The Pacers are among the 22 teams hitting Orlando this week for the return of the season, scheduled to tip off July 30. Their first practice is Saturday at the NW Pavilion from 1-4 p.m. EST.

They are also among the teams that will be missing a key player -- as star guard Victor Oladipo opted out in an effort to stay healthy. He appeared in just 13 games before the hiatus after undergoing knee surgery last season.

"As a competitor and teammate this is tearing me apart," Oladipo told Shams Charania of The Athletic. "But I truly believe continuing on the course I’m on and getting fully healthy for the 2020-21 season is the right decision for me."

Still, as has typically been the case under coach Nate McMillan, the Pacers believe in good things. They enter the restart with a record of 39-26 and tied with the Philadelphia 76ers for fifth place in Eastern Conference.

For the record, the Pacers are 32-20 in games without Oladipo this season.

And there are indeed plenty of reasons for hope. Small forward T.J. Warren leads the team in scoring. Power forward Domantas Sabonis was an All-Star. Malcolm Brogdon remains one the league's underrated point guards, Myles Turner a more-than-capable man in the middle.

"We were playing good basketball and we didn’t have our entire roster,” McMillan said of life before the hiatus.

Now, though, things will be different.

The world has changed quite a bit since the NBA suspended play in March. But the Pacers insist they're ready for when the ball starts bouncing again.

"It's going to be intense," Holiday said. "You won't know until you get there. I don't see why dudes wouldn't get out there and compete."

Turner offered similar sentiments.

"For us (the Pacers), I'm not worried," he said. "As an NBA brotherhood, it's going to be bigger than basketball. We're going to have to able to have open dialogue and discussion about outside of basketball."