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INDIANAPOLISWe are getting closer. Be ready.

That’s the message that Nate McMillan is, virtually, giving to his team right now.

With more and more states loosening restrictions about stay at home orders, now that the month of May has arrived, the Pacers head coach is making sure his team is mentally staying in the mindset that the 2019-20 NBA season could very well be starting up in the coming weeks/months.

“We are trying to put our players in a mindset of ‘prepare to play,’” McMillan shared on a Tuesday conference call. “We don’t know when that is going to happen, but we’ve been in conversations with our team over the last several weeks and each week we talk with our guys about where they are, what they need to do in preparing themselves and getting themselves in the mindset that we are going to play basketball again this season. I think it’s much easier to flip that switch off, than it is to flip it on. So we want our guys to have their switches on, training, waiting for that opportunity to get back to playing basketball.

“It’s difficult to try and flip on a switch when the NBA says, ‘OK, teams will be allowed to practice, and play 5-on-5. You can have 5 or 10 people in the building.’ When you are trying to go into that mindset of flipping that switch and haven’t had that mindset in the last 2 or 3 weeks, it’s going to be hard to get yourself to ready to go. We’ve talked to our guys about the mindset of getting into that routine as if you are already in season, possibly getting into the mindset of training twice a day, instead of once a day.”

As of now, the Pacers practice facility is still closed to players. When Marion County takes the next step in starting to re-open things, and if the Pacers facility is deemed one of those businesses allowed to do so, that’s when some players and staff will start to get back into the building.

But when that is, or how many staff members will be allowed in the building, remains to be seen.

And no one knows if the NBA will try and finish the remaining regular season portion of the schedule (around 17 games) or jump straight into the postseason.

Getting back into a routine during this quarantine lifestyle was something McMillan had to get going for himself again.

The head coach, who is back in his hometown of Raleigh, said he was ‘staying up late, and sleeping in late’ early on.’ But now he’s back to waking up at 6:30 AM every day and walking every other day.

The looming question of how long it would take for players to reconvene together and then get into game shape is an unknown to McMillan as well.

Installing sets, like you would do during a month-long training camp leading into a regular season, won’t be needed. Myles Turner has said he thinks it would take guys about 3 weeks of practice to get back into game shape. It’s likely that a minutes restriction for Victor Oladipo would have to be instituted again.

McMillan said that would depend on how many games are left in the regular season (if they finish it) and/or the playoffs.

McMillan said he has not talked to his team about the possibility of playing without fans.

“If we are, it’s basketball. It’s going to be competitive. Once you get out onto that floor and you lace them up and there’s another opponent over there, you can play this game. You’ll see a competitive game,” McMillan said. “Certainly, the fan base motivates you both at home and on the road, and we love to perform in front of our fans. It’ll be a bit weird, a bit strange, but as you’ve heard in some of ‘The Last Dance,’ those guys practicing and scrimmaging without fans, and how competitive it was, or how competitive it got, when you know you are playing for something, these guys will compete. I think you could see some good basketball.”

What all that eventually looks like remains an extremely fluid situation, even for those on the inside of the NBA.

For now, McMillan’s goal is to drill home the need to ‘be ready’ to his team.

“During the lockout, I’ve seen players careers end because they didn’t stick with a routine, they just sat back and relaxed and was at the refrigerator, at the pantry, staying up late and not training,” the veteran coach says. “Then, all of a sudden, they pick up all this weight and boom the season starts again and they aren’t ready to go. I’ve seen a couple of players careers change and they never got it back.”

“Talking to them last week, I really wanted our guys to approach April like it was August, then May as if it was September, that you are getting closer to a (normal) training camp (and regular season) and you need to start to condition more. You need to start possibly going to two-a-days, getting on a football field and running. Doing some things where you are ramping up what you are doing each day because it’s getting closer to training camp, and we don’t know if we are going to start anytime soon. I wanted them to get their mindset of, if you are out of town, you need to start thinking about getting back yourself back to Indiana, so you can start to train because things are going to ramp up.”

Fans of the Pacers (and sports) can’t wait for that to happen.