INDIANAPOLIS – The much-anticipated return of Caris LeVert came on Saturday night and it resulted in arguably the best win of the season for the Pacers.
In returning from the All-Star break for a 3-game western road trip, the Pacers (17-20) got a split on their Friday/Saturday back-to-back.
On Friday, the Pacers were in position to steal one against the Lakers (25-13).
Behind 18 first-quarter points from Malcolm Brogdon, the Pacers led by 8 after one and kept that margin into the final period. The lead actually stretched to 12 points early in the fourth before the Lakers went on a run spurred by Kyle Kuzma scoring 15 in the fourth.
Los Angeles played form ahead thanks to a 22-4 run.
The Pacers were down 3 with 9 seconds to go but a Brogdon inbounds pass was stolen and that sealed the comeback win for the Lakers.
Brogdon led Indiana with 29. Domantas Sabonis scored 20 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and handed out 8 assists.
Nate Bjorkgren’s team shot 22.2 precent from behind the arc and were outscored by 12 points at the foul line.
Indiana bounced back on Saturday against the Suns (25-12), which was the debut for LeVert.
A 21-3 run in the third quarter by the visiting Pacers built a 20-point cushion that led to the 122-111 victory.
Brogdon again led Indiana with 25 points. Sabonis recorded a triple-double with 22 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists.
Doug McDermott moved to the bench with LeVert starting and scored 22 points. LeVert scored 13 points in his Indiana debut.
Indiana shot 46.4 percent three-point range.The Pacers have one more game out west—Monday against the Nuggets—before returning home to take on the Nets this Wednesday.
Three Things Learned
1. LeVert’s Debut: In one of the more joyous moments in the NBA this season, Caris LeVert made his return to basketball on Saturday. A month and a half after having surgery to remove a cancerous mass on his left kidney, LeVert put on a Pacers uniform and made his Indiana debut against the Suns. LeVert scored 13 points (5-of-14 shooting, 0-for-4 from behind the arc) and grabbed 7 rebounds in playing 27 minutes. While LeVert showed more than expected rust (4 turnovers), he also displayed moments of a multi-dimensional player that this starting lineup was desperately lacking. Until T.J. Warren returns, which isn’t expected anytime soon, the Pacers will rely majorly on LeVert to help Indiana claw back into the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
2. Lineup Changes: With Caris LeVert entering the starting lineup, that sent Doug McDermott to the bench. McDermott looked pretty comfortable back in a role he’s used to. He scored 22 points on 9-of-13 shooting in the win over Phoenix. Moving forward, it looks like the Pacers will have a 10-man rotation with Goga Bitadze in that 11th spot. The core bench guys will be McDermott, Jeremy Lamb, T.J. McConnell, Aaron Holiday and Edmond Sumner. We’ll see if Sumner or Holiday get squeezed out at some point. But having McDermott back with McConnell should help the second unit stretch the floor a little bit more and provide drive and kick opportunities for McConnell and Holiday.
3. Fresh Legs: One thing was clear watching the Pacers over the weekend is the time off was much needed for Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis. Brogdon looked much more like the guy we saw in the early part of the season. It was quite evident towards the end of the first half of the season that these two were starting to hit a wall. They aren’t used to carrying such a load, particularly in a condensed year. With the return of LeVert, that should lessen the burden that Brogdon and Sabonis are needed on a night-in-night-out basis.
Pacers Upcoming Schedule
-@Nuggets (Monday, 3-15, at 9:00 PM)
-Nets (Wednesday, 3-17, at 7:00 PM)
-@Heat (Friday, 3-19, at 8:00 PM)
-@Heat (Sunday, 3-21, at 1:00 PM)
-@Bucks (Monday, 3-22, at 9:00 PM)