INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Pacers are restarting this season the same way they opened it — fielding questions about Victor Oladipo's status.
They are hoping to have an answer by next week.
After initially announcing he would not play in Florida because of concerns over his surgically-repaired right knee, the two-time All-Star backtracked and said he may reconsider if he could perform at a high level and he felt good.
That was good enough for coach Nate McMillan, who planned to use Oladipo in three scrimmage games.
"He’s going through the practices and he’s looking good,” McMillan said. “Right now, there are no restrictions on anyone.”
After fighting through 12 months of rehab, Oladipo returned from a ruptured quad tendon in late January. He played in 13 games, posting his best numbers in Indiana's final contest before the season was suspended.
Still, Oladipo knew he wasn't himself. He could only play one game of a back-to-back, missed another game when the knee randomly swelled and played limited minutes.
“I was on a minute restriction, that doesn't mean I was healthy," Oladipo said. “If I was 100% healthy, I wouldn't have been restricted."
Either way, it's clear the Pacers will be cautious with Oladipo and his teammates wouldn't want it any other way.
“A lot of people don't come back from those injuries,” guard Malcolm Brogdon said. “He's here every day, working hard, getting here early, staying late. It's hard. But you also have to do what's best for your body. He's a veteran. He's going to make the best decision for himself and I want him to make the best decision for himself."
Oladipo would be a boon for a team seeking to win its first playoff series since reaching the 2014 Eastern Conference finals.
“What he brings is another strong weapon to the lineup,” McMillan said. “We know he’s very capable of scoring and creating, but he also does a great job defending.”
If Oladipo plays — and returns to the starting lineup — Brogdon would continue to start at point guard. The other minutes would be split between the increasingly productive Holiday brothers, Aaron and Justin; T.J. McConnell, a key backup; and Edmond Sumner, who says he feels as healthy as he has since entering the league in 2017.
McMillan figures he will need all of those bodies in these strange times.
“I plan to play a lot of guys, certainly 10-plus guys in those scrimmage games,” he said.
Jeremy Lamb made the trip with his teammates and is doing limited work during practices. But he will miss the rest of the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in February.
WHERE WE WERE
When the season stopped, the Pacers appeared poised to make a push for home-court advantage in the first round.
With Oladipo rounding into form, president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard thought Indiana could make the jump from fifth in the East, possibly even as high as third.
Though the playoff format has changed, Pritchard's hopes — and those of the Pacers — have not.
Brogdon used the surprise break to get healthy — twice.
He injured a hip muscle March 4 against his former team, the Milwaukee Bucks, and was listed as week to week when the season stopped. Then, after speaking at a racial injustice protest in Atlanta, Brogdon was diagnosed with COVID-19, which delayed his arrival in Florida.
“I had very mild symptoms, had a fever and a headache," he said. “But I'm back to 100%.”
Brogdon also announced Tuesday he has created the Brogdon Family Foundation, an organization he wants to use to create a more equitable world.
TURN-ING IT ON
It took centre Myles Turner a couple of months to adapt to playing with All-Star forward Domantas Sabonis in the starting lineup. Now he appears to be the Pacers' biggest surprise in Orlando.
McMillan and Turner's teammates have all raved about Turner since they've returned to practice.
“He's looked as good as he's ever looked since I've been here,” Brogdon said. “He's confident and when he's playing with confidence out there, no one is actually stopping him.”
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Michael Marot, The Associated Press