INDIANAPOLIS – Are you ready for a third pro basketball season inside 365 days?
The NBA is. Rick Carlisle is. The Indiana Pacers are. The Pacers will play the first of four preseason games Tuesday night against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. That is Oct. 5 on your 2021 calendar.
Consider that the 2020 NBA Finals, won by the Los Angeles Lakers over the Miami Heat 4-2, wrapped up Oct. 11 in the bubble at Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
“Feels like three years ago,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. Since then, the Milwaukee Bucks won their first championship since 1971. We’re on to 2022.
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Carlisle said “a lot of great things happened” as a consequence of the pandemic.
“We’re going through a phase in our history where you’ve got to be light on your feet, you’ve got to be to adjust, and you’ve got to have a level of discipline about whatever the rules are that that particular time,” he said.
“My feeling is, it shows the NBA has a great deal of resiliency. The NBA players, coaches, management people, ownership have a great level of resiliency and resourcefulness.”
The Pacers must be resilient because the franchise featured three coaches in less than a year. Nate McMillan was fired in August 2020, Nate Bjorkgren fired in June 2021, and Carlisle hired a few weeks after that.
Carlisle said this training camp has been like any other in that a week into it, players have wearied of going against each other and are ready for a game. Myles Turner suggested this camp is not quite like any other.
“The competitive nature of this group, that naturally brings the energy out,” Turner said. “You have guys here who want to work. Everybody wants to be here. I don’t feel like their minds are somewhere else.
“When we’re in here, we’re locked in. That’s a credit to the coaching staff as well. We enjoy their concepts and whatnot. There’s been some good days.”
Domantas Sabonis added:
“Every day is better and better. Can’t wait to get out there and play.”
Players typically spend more time together during travel than when at home, so the Pacers regard two road games — Tuesday at New York and Friday at Cleveland — as well-timed. The Knicks are coming off a playoff appearance and are “one of those teams we’re going to need to beat consistently during the season,” guard Malcolm Brogdon said.
Performing in front of fans, especially at MSG, is appealing for “that villain aspect of things,” Turner said. “That’s kind of been missing without the fans.”
Fighting for roster spots
In the preseason, Carlisle must balance two things: Playing starters together to build cohesiveness and allowing minutes for players vying to make the team.
The latter include third-year pro Kelan Martin of Butler, offseason signee Nate Hinton and rookies Keifer Sykes and Terry Taylor. DeJon Jarreau and Duane Washington Jr. are on two-way deals splitting the season with the Pacers and G-League’s Fort Wayne Mad Ants.
“There’s a lot of guys that are really great practice players. Games are different,” Carlisle said. “Often times in games, you’re called upon to play short minutes. We’ve got to evaluate which guys can play effectively in short minutes. So there’s a lot going on with all that.
“The games are meaningful. You rarely see anybody who’s competing for a roster position make an NBA team without playing pretty well in the preseason games at some point.”
In the absence of injured T.J. Warren and Caris LeVert, the Pacers are expected to start Justin Holiday and Jeremy Lamb along with Sabonis, Turner and Brogdon.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact IndyStar reporter David Woods at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidWodos007.