INDIANAPOLIS – Well, T.J. Warren and the Pacers won’t be going undefeated in the Orlando bubble.
A team with a clear sense of urgency, and inevitable rebounding woes, caught up to the Pacers on Thursday afternoon.
It was a couple of big runs by Phoenix that led to the Pacers dropping their first game in Orlando, in a 114-99 loss to the Suns.
With the Suns still fighting for a possible playoff spot, they looked like a team still playing for a postseason berth, while also wanting some revenge on their former teammate.
Swarming defense to Warren, who played in Phoenix from 2014-19, all game long had the Pacers forward going just 7-of-20 from the field, finishing with 16 points.
But the game was lost for the Pacers when they had to go to their patched work bench unit.
The Suns bench outscored Indiana by 18 points, with the Pacers clearly missing Domantas Sabonis.
Continued big man dominance against the Pacers saw Phoenix center Deandre Ayton scoring 23 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.
Malcolm Brogdon led Indiana with 25 points on 9-of-16 shooting. Myles Turner had 17 points and 8 rebounds. Victor Oladipo scored 16 points on 4-of-11 shooting.
While the Pacers played from behind through much of the first half, their starters kept them in it into the final minutes of the third quarter, before the Suns finished the period scoring 14 straight points.
Forward Doug McDermott (sore right knee) was a late scratch for Thursday’s contest.
The Pacers final 4 games in Orlando will ramp up in competition, starting with taking on the Lakers this Saturday at 6:00.
Three Things Learned
-Struggling Bench: The most consistent aspect to the 2019-20 Pacers has not delivered in Orlando. And it makes some sense given the trickle down effect that comes with not having Domantas Sabonis. The bench, which was also without Doug McDermott on Thursday, got torched against the Suns and it was a major reason why the Pacers lost their first game in Orlando. Nate McMillan used Victor Oladipo with the second unit on Thursday, but the guard didn’t provide the leading role as the best player on the floor when the two teams largely used their reserves. This is where the absence of Sabonis really comes into play. Sabonis is usually the catalyst for that group and without him, the Pacers are scrambling a bit to create consistent offense. While you know the rotation will shorten in the playoffs, this strength Indiana had all season long might be gone. Justin Holiday is now 3-of-18 from behind the arc in Orlando, and not having Sabonis is a big reason for that.
-Competition Picking Up: What the Pacers have accomplished so far in going 3-1 in the bubble has been notable. And with Ben Simmons (76ers) likely out for the final week of the regular season, it’s looking like the Pacers will avoid dropping to the 6 seed, and play Boston in Round 1. Now, with how the 8-game schedule was laid out for the Pacers to finish the regular season, the level of competition should be much more playoff-like to close things out (at least, we hope). After playing 4 teams that are behind the Pacers in the standings, Indiana will now play 4 teams they are looking up at. The Pacers will close with the Lakers, Heat, Rockets and Heat—with two matchups against Miami possibly being a precursor to what we see in Round 1. This will be a good measuring stick for the Pacers in terms of what they will see in the postseason. Of course, we could see some resting from the Lakers (LeBron James didn’t play on Thursday with the Lakers having the No. 1 seed locked up) and/or Rockets, and possibly some hesitancy from both the Heat and Pacers in showing too many cards.
-Domantas Sabonis Still Out Indefinitely: We are now two weeks into Domantas Sabonis (foot) leaving the Orlando bubble to get more treatment/opinions on his plantar fasciitis. Nate McMillan continues to list Sabonis as ‘out indefinitely.’ One would think that with such a label on Sabonis, he is still at least a couple of weeks away from possible game action, if he even returns at all. With just one week remaining in the regular season finish, the Pacers having Sabonis for the first round of the playoffs looks very up in the air. While the offensive flow for the Pacers starters has been great, sans Sabonis, that’s largely thanks to going smaller and spreading the floor with more shooting/creating off the dribble. The absence of Sabonis has hurt the bench unit and the rebounding remains a question mark. On Thursday, the Pacers played rookie Goga Bitadze (knee) for the first time in Orlando, as they continue to search for more frontcourt depth. JaKarr Sampson has given the Pacers some nice minutes in Orlando, but he’s shorter for center, at just 6-7.
Pacers Regular Season Re-Start Schedule
-Lakers, 8/8 (Saturday), 6:00 PM
-Heat, 8/10 (Monday), 8:00 PM
-Rockets, 8/12 (Wednesday), 4:00 PM
-Heat, 8/14 (Friday), TBD
Current Eastern Conference Standings
1. Milwaukee (55-14)
2. Toronto (49-18), 5.0 games back
3. Boston (45-23), 9.5 games back
4. Miami (43-26), 12.0 games back
5. Indiana (42-27), 13.0 games back
6. Philadelphia (41-27), 13.5 games back
7. Brooklyn (32-36), 22.5 games back
8. Orlando (32-37), 23.0 games back