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Pacers' first test comes on the big stage; here's what to expect
Carlisle: "New York’s a playoff team, a physical, hard-playing group. It will be a really good challenge for us.”
It’s early October and basketball resumes Tuesday night in Indiana for the first time since May 20. After an unusual season and missing out on the playoffs for the first time in six seasons, this group starts anew in The Big Apple (at 7:30 p.m. ET).
It was fun to see many players and staff members share their excitement for the new season Tuesday morning. They were in New York City and hitting the court at Madison Square Garden — or The Mecca — readying for their first tune-up game. Finally, they could play someone else.
“We’re starting against a good, physical New York,” said point guard Malcolm Brogdon. “We need to play a tough team like that, we need to understand what the physicality is going to be like because New York is going to be one of those teams we need to beat consistently during the season.”
He then tweeted this after shootaround.
Yes, Malcolm. Yes it is.
Rick Carlisle is back running the team and his influence should be on display right away. It will start on the defensive end, where they should be organized and understand what to do. He wants a quick-moving offense, playing 5-out and moving the ball. Don’t be surprised to see any Pacer launch from range; that’s been drilled into the team and he hopes it rings true.
Carlisle, a coach with the 15th-most wins all-time, finds great value in these exhibition games. There’s players than minutes to go around so he also wants to see which players can play effective in short bursts.
“The starters are going to play together a lot,” he said. “Look, it’s gonna be thought out and we’ll do it so that it makes sense. We want to phase in a little more minutes each game for our main guys, but it’s important that they get a good run on Tuesday. New York’s a playoff team, a physical, hard-playing group. It will be a really good challenge for us.”
Carlisle inherited a lot from last year. Not much has changed in terms of personnel, but expect them to be much more organized, confident and working as one.
Asked what Carlisle has added to the team in less than a week, two-time All-Star Domantas Sabonis didn’t hesitate.
“Toughness,” he said. “His presence is felt by us, we respect him on the court, the refs are going to respect him. The league respects him. He’s a high-(level) coach and that’s just big for us. We’re excited and everybody listens.”
You won’t see starters Caris LeVert or T.J. Warren; they’re still out with injures (and Edmond Sumner is out for the year after having surgery). Veterans Jeremy Lamb and Justin Holiday replaced them in the starting lineup for the last week of practice — and that group has been “dominant” in team scrimmages.
“Jeremy and Justin are very familiar faces for us and with those guys, they’re even more so just pass-first guys that want to play within the flow of the offense,” said Brogdon. “There’s a lot of ball movement and then when we get Caris and T.J. back, they take pressure off everybody because they score the ball so well.”
The Pacers have a full 20-man roster — and 17 players available — so it’s unlikely all players see the court on Tuesday. But both highly-talented rookies should, and there’s a lot to like about their games.
Chris Duarte is ready-made, he’s a two-way player and will compete to be the best shooter on the team right away. There will be an adjustment period, like there always is for rookies — a new league, 82 games, the speed of the game and physicality — but he’s been noticeable at camp for ringing the bell daily and welcoming challenges defensively.
“He plays a mature game,” Carlisle said. “He plays a veteran-style game. He doesn’t get rushed, he’s at his pace. He’s an explosive athlete that knows how to create edges and explode when he needs to. His skill is very good, shoots the ball very well, passes it well.
“Defensively, that’s where he’s a little different than most young players. He’s a high-level defender for a rookie, as is Isaiah Jackson.”
Jackson was taken with the 22nd overall pick, one the front office acquired via trade. He’s a versatile defender and will see time at the 4 and 5. He’s eager to soak in all he can after just one year at the University of Kentucky. And where you’ll notice him right away is at the rim on both ends — swatting shots and being a true lob threat offensively.
It is just a preseason game Tuesday night and the Yankees are playing in a MLB Wildcard Game against the Red Sox, but the crowd is almost always great at MSG. Many venues were without fans last season while others, like the Pacers’ Fieldhouse, was capped at around 25 percent.
“I feel like I created my own energy last year,” said spark plug guard T.J. McConnell. “I love playing in front of the fans so I’m looking forward to it.”
There is not a local TV broadcast for the first two practice games, both on the road. However, it is being televised by MSG Network (with the Hall of Famer Mike Breen) so if you have NBA League Pass, cross your fingers and hope the stream works.
If you’re on Twitter, join me at 7:00 p.m. for a pre-game conversation on Twitter Spaces.
Until then, listen to the latest episode of the Fieldhouse Files Podcast — on Apple Podcasts or your favorite audio platform.