Indiana Pacers coach Nate McMillan is aware of the physical challenges of getting his team ready for the re-start of the 2020-21 NBA season.
But overcoming the mental hurdles, McMillian said, will be just as important.
The Pacers are leaving today to begin a two- to three-month stay in an isolated bubble at the Disney Wide World of Sports Complex outside of Orlando, Fla. in a state that is now a COVID-19 hot spot. In addition to health concerns, there is the anxiety of being away from family and adapting to different practice schedules and routines.
“The team that’s going to be strongest mentally will have some success in this bubble,” McMillan said. “You are talking about, we’re sitting here packing and we’re packing for two months — two or three months — and it’s like, you know, there is no home court, you are going to be playing with no fans. A lot of this is going to be guys self-motivating themselves.
“I’m going to have to do my part as a coach and we have some things in place that we’re going to try to do to get our guys focused and keep them focused down there.”
Indiana will hold its first practice on Saturday, 48 hours after arriving in Disney. Teams are required to self-quarantine for a 36- to 48-hour period before hitting the practice floor.
“The concern is conditioning,” McMillan said. “It will be the first time that our guys, in the last four months, have played five-on-five basketball, so I’m really excited to get those guys on the floor and get them together and start working on playing again.”
The Pacers will be moving forward without All-Star guard Victor Oladipo. The former Indiana University standout announced last week that he’s not going to take part in the re-start of the season due to concerns over re-injuring his right knee tendon. Oladipo will travel with the team to Orlando and McMillan said he may take part in some practices. McMillan re-iterated his support of Oladipo’s decision.
“We’ve always taken that role, the player has to be mentally and physically ready to go,” McMillan said. “It’s the same approach we took with Victor when he was returning the first time, and that’s the approach that we will take now.”
McMillan said guard Malcolm Brogdon is near the end of his 14-day quarantine period after testing positive for COVID-19 and could be back practicing with the Pacers by Saturday.
“Now it’s about testing,” McMillan said. “We’re currently, right now, waiting for results from his testing.”
McMillan said the Pacers will take a team-wide approach in replacing the production of Oladipo and guard Jeremy Lamb, who went down with a season-ending knee injury before the shut down in March. Among those who could see their roles expand when the season re-starts on Aug. 1 against the Philadelphia 76ers include guard Aaron Holiday, swingman Justin Holiday and guard Edmond Sumner
“We’ve been doing it all season long,” McMillan said. “All of our guys have pretty much missed a game or two. One of the good things that has happened with our group is I think our coaches do a really good job of keeping our guys who are not playing, ready to play and ready to go, and those guys have been able to step in for us all season long and do some good things.”
Forwards Domantas Sabonis (18.5 ppg) and T.J. Warren (18.7 ppg) will continue to assume scoring roles in Oladipo’s absence, as they did before he returned in late January.
“Being without Victor, these guys have just adapted to the situation we’ve had every single night going into a game,” McMillan said. “They have had themselves, and kept themselves, ready to play and they’ve had pretty good seasons going,”
Although there’s no homecourt advantage to be gained, with all games taking place at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex, McMillan said the Pacers will play the eight remaining games to win and improve their playoff seeding. At 39-26, Indiana is currently tied with the 76ers for the fifth/sixth seed in the East.
“We still feel we can move up in the standings,” McMillan said. “We will be approaching those games to certainly get ourselves ready for the playoffs, but we also have an opportunity to move out of that fifth position, or even drop out of that fifth position, so our focus will be to approach those games certainly to get our guys back into a rhythm and get them ready for the playoffs. But our approach is going to be to try to win games.”